Rachel Maddow Show: John McCain's Terrible Record On Veterans Issues

[media id=6563] Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA sits down with Rachel Maddow to discuss his group's 2008 report card on how members of Congress voted on Veter

Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA sits down with Rachel Maddow to discuss his group's 2008 report card on how members of Congress voted on Veterans issues. John McCain: D. Barack Obama: B.

RIECKHOFF: There were 53 original co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle [for the new GI Bill]. Eventually, right-wing folks like Senator Warner got involved with folks on the left like Senator Webb. Every major veteran services organization in the country supported it, more ¾ of the House. So, this was kind of a legislative locomotive. And one of the only blocks along the way consistently was Senator McCain.

So, it's not a partisan issue here. The G.I. bill had tremendous support. And he was just really behind this legislative issue. Now, he's made attempts to go back and say he was holding out for transferability. Transferability, being able to transfer your G.I. bill benefits to your family members. It was already in the law. It was at the discretion of the Department of Defense.

So, it's kind of a red herring there. But the reports are out there now. Everybody can check the vote. Go to VeteranReportCard.org, you can check their votes and everybody else who's up for reelection this year.

I know Senator Obama didn't serve in the military or endure years of torture thirty years ago, but isn't it time everyone acknowledge that John McCain simply doesn't own the veterans issue because of his history? His service is certainly admirable, but in order to claim that you support the troops, you actually have to, you know, support the troops -- not be one of the only "road blocks" standing in the way of the most important veterans bill of the past 40 years.

Full transcript below the fold:

MADDOW: To a significant number of veterans, John McCain does appear to be the preferred candidate of the choice between Barack Obama and John McCain. What boils my blood here is the prospect that voters' assumptions drawing from John McCain's biography and his legislative record are too very, very different things. And in the end, what I need to be talked down about, is the idea that John McCain is getting credit that he really is not due.

Here to attempt to Talk Me Down is Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Hi, Paul. Nice to see you.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Hi, Rachel. Great to be with you.

MADDOW: The new report card that you had put out on the legislative record on veterans' issues for 2007-2008 congressional year, gives John McCain a "D." How do Barack Obama and Joe Biden do?

RIECKHOFF: Barack Obama gets a "B," Joe Biden also gets a "B." But 50 folks in the Senate did get "A's." Overall, it was a very good year for Congress. They passed a largest funding increase in 77 years and they passed the historic G.I. bill.

But for McCain and for Obama, the most critical issue here was attendance. McCain missed six of nine of our key votes. And Obama actually missed four of nine. Senator McCain missed more votes than Tim Johnson who was in a coma, OK? Senator Obama and Senator McCain both missed more votes than Senator Ted Kennedy who had a brain tumor.

So, it's about showing up. You can't support vets if you're not there to vote on their key issues. And unfortunately, Senator McCain was absent for six of those nine key votes.

MADDOW: And talk about a key issue, one of the votes that he

missed, that Senator Obama did not miss, I should point out, was the new

G.I. bill. Senator McCain had a sort of unusual role on the formation of the G.I. bill this year. He did, in the end, try to take sort of credit for it. He was thanked at the outset at the signing ceremony, but he was not involved as an original co-sponsor on this legislation, isn't that right?

RIECKHOFF: Correct. There were 53 original co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Eventually, right-wing folks like Senator Warner got involved with folks on the left like Senator Webb. Every major veteran services organization in the country supported it, more ¾ of the House. So, this was kind of a legislative locomotive. And one of the only blocks along the way consistently was Senator McCain.

So, it's not a partisan issue here. The G.I. bill had tremendous support. And he was just really behind this legislative issue. Now, he's made attempts to go back and say he was holding out for transferability. Transferability, being able to transfer your G.I. bill benefits to your family members. It was already in the law. It was at the discretion of the Department of Defense.

So, it's kind of a red herring there. But the reports are out there now. Everybody can check the vote. Go to VeteranReportCard.org, you can check their votes and everybody else who's up for reelection this year.

MADDOW: Paul, I know that IAVA is a totally nonpartisan organization. You guys do not make endorsements. You don't make political contributions.

But I have to ask you, politically, looking at this presidential race, when you see things like John McCain going over and touching that man on the shoulder, sort of ostentatiously in the audience last night.

RIECKHOFF: Right.

MADDOW: When you see him talked so frequently about his love for veterans and you know, their painful experience, the distance between the way he talks about them, sort of the symbolism that he wraps himself in around veterans' issues and what he has done as a politician, do you think there's any hope of bridging that gap in people's minds, to making people recognize that he hasn't actually been that great on veterans' issues as a politician?

RIECKHOFF: I hope so. You know, that's why we created this report. And not just for Senator McCain but for everybody. There's a lot of empty rhetoric in Washington about people who support the troops. And looking through these records, looking through Defense appropriations votes, looking through votes on the G.I. bill, it's not a sexy thing.

But we kind of done the hard work and made it completely transparent and let the votes speak for themselves. But being a veteran alone doesn't mean you are strong on veteran issues. You can be Dennis Kucinich got a good grade and he's been against this war as much as anyone. It's about the votes, not about your veteran status. And we made it entirely transparent.

MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, it's nice to see you.

RIECKHOFF: You, too. Thanks so much.

MADDOW: I should mention, as a programming note, just to be fair that Paul appears weekly on my radio show on Air America Radio. And I never get to see his pretty bald face.

So, it's nice to see you, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: You, too.

About SilentPatriot

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.