When National Journal's new ideological ratings of Congress came out, I wrote a quick take-down later that day. In light of the immediately evident errors and omissions in their selection and classification of roll call votes, I decided to do a more thorough review of their analysis. I chose to look at the Senate votes alone, even though there are some jarring omissions in their analysis of the House (the Iran sanctions bill, the NDAA, the Murray-Ryan budget deal). The following is a letter I intend to send to National Journal.
When I first read your rankings, I was surprised not to see Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) listed among the Top 15 most liberal senators. I was even more surprised to see him placed in the most conservative third of the Democratic Party.
This immediately made me curious about the methodology you used for your rating system. Thankfully, you discuss your methodology and provide a list of all of the roll call votes you used and how you classified them.
Perusing this list, I noticed a number of omissions and several instances of a failure to distinguish between left and right opposition. The most glaring omissions, at first glance, were Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s Farm Bill amendment restoring SNAP funding by cutting crop insurance reimbursement payments and student loan reform legislation (bills and amendments) from the summer.
I will look at those in particular later on. I have decided to go chronologically through the bill-related roll call votes of the 1st session of the 113th Congress to identify omissions or, on occasion, perceived mislabeling. I will then look at the questionable treatment or omission of several confirmation votes.
Debt Limit Extension
On January 31, 2013, the Senate passed an extension of the debt limit. You include that vote as well as several amendments:
6/HR325 Table an amendment requiring that any debt-limit increase be balanced by equal spending cuts over the next decade. Jan. 31. (54-44) L-3However, you leave out the eight and tenth roll call votes but offer no explanation why. The eight was a motion to table an amendment from Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would have prioritized Social Security payments, military pay, and interest on debt if the government passed the debt ceiling. Senate Democrats dispensed with that amendment on a party line vote of 53 to 45. The tenth was a motion to table an amendment from David Vitter (R-LA) to send the bill back to the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Democrats dispensed with that amendment on a party line vote of 53 to 45.
7/HR325 Table an amendment providing for automatic continuing resolutions if Congress fails to pass appropriations bills, but at reduced spending levels after 120 days. Jan. 31. (52-46) L-3
9/HR325 Table an amendment to prohibit the sale or delivery of F-16 aircraft and M1 tanks to Egypt. Jan. 31. (79-19) L-2
11/HR325 Provide for a short-term increase in the government's debt limit. Jan. 31. (64-34) L-3
On February 12, 2013, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. You included that vote as well as the votes on several amendments:
13/S47 Pass a substitute version of the Violence Against Women Act. Feb. 7. (34-65) L-3The 16th roll call vote, on an amendment by Rob Portman (R-OH) to clarify that child victims of sex trafficking are eligible to receive assistance under grants provided to enhance the safety of youth and children, was understandably excluded from analysis because it was unanimous.
14/S47 Strike language from the Violence Against Women Act giving Indian tribes greater authority over non-tribal domestic-violence offenders. Feb. 11. (31-59) L-3
18/S47 Withhold 20 percent of grant funds from states that do not quickly test alleged sex offenders for sexually transmitted diseases. Feb. 12. (43-57) L-3
19/S47 Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Feb. 12. (78-22) L-2
However, that logic does not apply to the other two votes ignored. The 15th roll call vote was on an amendment by Pat Leahy (D-VT) to authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, to enhance measures to combat trafficking in persons, and for other purposes. It passed 93 to 5, drawing opposition from five conservative Republicans: Coburn (OK), Inhofe (OK), Johnson (WI), Lee (UT), and Sessions (AL). The 17th roll call vote was on an amendment from Tom Coburn (R-OK) to consolidate "duplicative" programs within the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. It failed 46 to 53, gaining the support of only two Democrats--Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). These two votes help to identify the members of the conservative wings of both parties.
On February 28, 2013, the Senate held cloture votes for both parties' sequestration replacement plans. The cloture vote for the Republican plan was 38 to 62. Nine Republicans voted against the GOP plan: Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mike Lee (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). And two Democrats voted for it: Max Baucus (D-MT) and Mark Warner (D-VA).
The cloture vote (roll call 27) on the Democratic plan to replace sequestration cuts by closing tax loopholes and cutting some funding from farm subsidies and the Pentagon also failed. Although the bill had majority support in the Senate (51 to 49), it did not meet the 60 vote cloture threshold. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) all joined with Republicans to prevent the bill from moving forward. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cast a NO vote for parliamentary reasons, i.e., so that he could maintain the right to bring the bill back up for a vote in the future.
You include most of the votes related to the continuing resolution passed in March of 2013:
34/HR933 Prohibit the use of funds to carry out the 2010 health care reform law. March 13. (45-52) L-3However, you leave out three votes. The first, roll call 35, was a motion to table an amendment from John McCain (R-AZ) to strike certain authorities relating to the use for grants of funds of the Office of Economic Assistance of the Department of Defense. It failed 48 to 50. Five members of the Democratic caucus joined the Republicans in voting against the motion: Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Angus King (I-ME), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). The last, roll call 41, was an amendment by Pat Toomey (R-PA) to increase by $25,000,000 the amount appropriated for Operation and Maintenance for the Department of Defense for programs, projects, and activities in the continental United States, and to provide an offset. It failed 40 to 59. Bob Casey (D-PA) was the only Democrat to vote for it. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined the Democratic caucus in defeating it.
36/HR933 Increase funding for education programs for low-income and disabled students, and decrease funding for selected other health and education programs. March 14. (54-45; 60 votes required for passage) C-3
37/HR933 Temporarily freeze the hiring of nonessential federal employees. March 14. (45-54; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
38/HR933 Invoke cloture on a substitute continuing appropriations bill for fiscal 2013. March 18. (63-35; 60 votes required for cloture) L-3
39/HR933 Prohibit the use of Homeland Security Department funds under the Urban Area Security Initiative for overtime pay, security at Major League Baseball parks, and other purposes. March 20. (48-51; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
42/HR933 Approve a substitute amendment to the continuing appropriations bill for fiscal 2013. March 20. (70-29) L-2
43/HR933 Invoke cloture on a continuing appropriations bill for fiscal 2013. March 20. (63-36; 60 votes required for cloture) L-3
44/HR933 Approve a continuing appropriations bill for fiscal 2013. March 20. (73-26) L-2
I can understand excluding roll call 40, the vote on an amendment by Tom Coburn (R-OK) attempting to restore funding to White House tours, since its purpose was far more partisan than ideological.
You, correctly, include most of the votes from the Senate's budget "vote-a-rama," that time when the Senate gets to take a series of risk-free votes to please constituencies, knowing safely that the votes are non-binding and, thus, ultimately meaningless.
And you excluded some votes that certainly should be excluded: the unanimous votes (for popular principles like middle-class tax relief without corresponding substance), the strange bedfellows votes of coalitions cobbled together, and the votes that are not ideological nature, at least at the surface.
However, you left out some that seem worthy of inclusion.
Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) forced Republicans to take a vote on the Ryan budget (roll call 46). The Ryan budget failed 40 to 59. Relative GOP moderates Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dean Heller (R-NV) voted against it, as did GOP hardliners like Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Ted Cruz opposed the Ryan budget because it kept the Medicare savings from the Affordable Care Act. Paul has also criticized the Ryan budget for not being conservative enough. I'm not sure that the National Journal rating system could even account for the contrast in reasons for the opposition of Heller/Collins and Lee/Paul/Cruz.
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced an amendment (roll call 50) to prohibit the consideration of a budget resolution that includes revenue increases while the civilian unemployment rate is above 5.5 percent, the administration's prediction for the unemployment rate without the stimulus. It failed on a party line vote of 45 to 54.
You include the vote on Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)'s amendment (roll call 58) "to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring that all revenue from a fee on carbon pollution is returned to the American people." But you exclude the vote on Roy Blunt (R-MO)'s amendment (roll call 59) to create a point of order against legislation that would create a Federal tax or fee on carbon emissions. The roll call votes were similar but not the same. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA) all voted against a carbon tax but also against requiring a point of order.
You include Mark Warner (D-VA)'s amendment (roll call 66) to repeal or reduce the estate tax "but only if done in a fiscally responsible way." But you exclude the vote on John Thune (R-SD)'s amendment to permanently eliminate the federal estate tax. The two votes differed greatly in Democratic support. Warner's bill received the support of 35 members of the Democratic caucus. Thune's bill only received the support of two Democrats--Max Baucus (D-MT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV)--and lost the support of Susan Collins (R-ME).
Richard Burr (R-NC) offered an amendment (roll call 68) to create a point of order against legislation that would raise taxes on veterans. It failed on a party line vote.
Pat Toomey (R-PA) offered an amendment (roll call 71) to repeal the tax increase on catastrophic medical expenses created by the Affordable Care Act. It failed on a party line vote.
Ron Johnson (R-WI) offered an amendment (roll call 74) to force Congress to ensure the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare programs. It failed 46 to 54. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only person to cross party lines in either direction.
Mike Crapo (R-ID) offered an amendment (roll call 81) to amend the reconciliation instructions to include instructions to the Committee on Finance to achieve the Budget's stated goal of $275 billion in mandatory health care savings. It failed 47 to 53. Two Democrats--Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mark Udall (D-CO)--crossed party lines to support it.
You include most of the votes related to the firearm safety legislation taken up by the Senate in April:
95/S649 Invoke cloture on a bill to require a background check for every firearm sale. April 11. (68-31; 60 votes required for cloture) L-2However, you exclude the 105th roll call vote, that on Tom Harkin (D-IA)'s amendment to reauthorize and improve programs related to mental health and substance use disorders. Granted, it passed easily on a vote of 95 to 2. However, the existence of those two--GOP hardliners Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY)--provides useful information for discerning intra-party differences.
97/S649 Approve a substitute gun-control measure proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. April 17. (54-46; 60 votes required for passage) C-3
98/S649 Approve a substitute gun-control measure proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. April 17. (52-48; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
99/S649 Impose additional punishments for firearms trafficking. April 17. (58-42; 60 votes required for passage) C-3
100/S649 Allow reciprocity for the carrying of certain concealed weapons. April 17. (57-43; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
101/S649 Impose a ban on assault weapons. April 17. (40-60; 60 votes required for passage) C-2
102/S649 Ease Veterans Affairs Department regulations restricting the use of firearms by certain veterans and their families. April 17. (56-44; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
103/S649 Regulate large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices. April 17. (46-54; 60 votes required for passage) C-3
104/S649 Withhold 5 percent of community-policing funds to states and localities that release certain information on gun owners. April 18. (67-30; 60 votes required for passage) C-2
Water Development Bill
Your analysis included several roll call votes from the water development bill passed by the Senate:
115/S601 Protect the right to bear arms at Army Corps of Engineers water-resources-development projects. May 8. (56-43; 60 votes required for passage) L-3There were several omissions here, however. You did not include Senator Sanders (I-VT)'s amendment to address restoration of certain properties impacted by natural disasters (roll call 120). It failed to reach the 60 vote threshold, dying 56 to 40. The vote was party line, with the exception of cross-over support from Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and David Vitter (R-LA).
116/S601 Create a National Endowment for the Oceans. May 8. (67-32; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
119/S601 Restrict the implementation of the Clean Water Act. May 14. (52-44; 60 votes required for passage) L-3
123/S601 Require the use of American-made iron and steel for pilot projects under the Water Resources Development Act. May 15. (60-36) L-3
Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered two amendments that received a vote. First was an amendment (roll call 121) to stop Federal subsidies for ongoing beach renourishment from being extended to 65 years. It failed 43 to 53, on a mostly party line vote. Second was an amendment to give the newly created Infrastructure Deauthorization Commission more power to end federal support for water projects. It failed 35 to 61. 30 Republicans and 5 members of the Democratic caucus supported it. 48 members of the Democratic caucus and 13 Republicans opposed it.
The final vote on passage (roll call 124) was also excluded from your analysis. The bill passed easily, 83 to 14. However, most of the opposition came from the conservative faction of the Republican Party, revealing intra-party contrasts.
One of the most notable omissions in your list of roll call votes was the vote on Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s amendment to the Farm Bill from last May (roll call 131). Her amendment would have eliminated the approximately $4 billion in cuts from the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), with an offset that limits crop insurance reimbursements to providers. It failed 26 to 70. The support came from the liberal faction of the Democratic Party. The Republican caucus and the more conservative members of the Democratic Party were opposed. I was very surprised to see that this amendment was ignored in your analysis.
Clearly, your analysis did include other aspects of the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
130/S954 Impose new eligibility restrictions on food-stamp recipients. May 21. (40-58) L-3However, Gillibrand's amendment was just as important--if not more so--than some of these in revealing a liberal-conservative contrast, particularly within the Democratic Party.
132/S954 Turn the food-stamp program into a block grant instead of an entitlement program. May 22. (36-60) L-3
135/S954 Permit states to require food labels for foods with genetically engineered ingredients. May 23. (27-71; 60 votes required for passage) C-1
145/S954 Approve a bill reauthorizing farm programs through 2018. June 10. (66-27) L-2
I would be curious to know your reasons for omitting several other Farm Bill amendments as well.
Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had an amendment (roll call 129) to allow Indian tribes to participate in certain soil and water conservation programs. It passed easily, 87 to 8. The 8 NO votes were from some of the most conservative members of the Republican Party. That vote, thus, helps to elucidate the internal spectrum of that party.
Diane Feinstein (D-CA) offered an amendment (roll call 137) to prohibit the payment by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation of any portion of the premium for a policy or plan of insurance for tobacco. It failed 44 to 52. The supporters were mostly liberal Democrats and the more moderate wing of the Republican Party. The opponents were mostly conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans. Although both support and opposition were bipartisan, anti-tobacco legislation has often been associated with a "liberal" position of regulating corporations in the public interest.
Pat Leahy (D-VT) offered an amendment (roll call 144) to establish a pilot program for gigabit Internet projects in rural areas. It passed 48 to 38 (attendance was low that day). The vote was almost entirely party line. Two Republicans--Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Johanns of Nebraska--supported it, and only one Democrat--Claire McCaskill of Missouri--opposed it.
Dick Durbin (D-IL)'s amendment to means-test crop insurance subsidies (roll call 139) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)'s amendment to reform the federal sugar program (roll call 134) both produced strange bedfellows. Their exclusion is understandable.
Student Loan Bill
I was particularly surprised by how your analysis excluded the votes connected to student loan reform from last summer. As you may remember, student loan rates were set to spike as of July 1st. The Senate Democrats originally proposed legislation that would keep the lower rates by closing several tax loopholes (specifically, modifying required distribution rules for pension plans, limiting earnings stripping by expatriated entities, and providing for modifications related to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund). The cloture vote on June 6 (roll call 143) failed 51 to 49. Angus King (I-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined the Republican caucus in preventing the bill from proceeding.
Earlier that day, the motion to invoke cloture on the Republican alternative (roll call 142) failed 40 to 57. Tom Carper (D-DE) was the only Democrat to support the Republican plan. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Risch (R-ID), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) all opposed their own party's plan from the right. I'm not sure if the National Journal rating system could pick up the contrast in the Democratic opposition to the motion and the opposition from these Republicans.
After that, a group of senators from both parties brokered a deal with the president's blessing to fix student loan interest rates to 10-year treasury bills. The New York Times editorial board came out strongly against the bill because it would, in fact, raise student loan interest rates. Liberal senators offered two amendments to prevent such future spikes. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced an amendment (roll call 183) to provide for a cap on interest rates on student loans. It failed 46 to 53. 7 members of the Democratic caucus joined the Republicans in defeating it. Next, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced an amendment (roll call 184) to sunset the bill. That failed 34 to 65, with 19 conservative members of the Democratic caucus joining with Republicans to defeat it. The final bill (roll call 185) passed easily, 81 to 18. The opposition consisted of 17 Senate liberals and one Mike Lee.
Transportation & HUD Appropriations
You include the motion to table Pat Toomey's amendment to reduce discretionary spending in the Transportation/Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. However, you exclude the cloture vote on the bill itself (roll call 199) from August 1. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined the Democratic caucus in voting for cloture, but they did not meet the 60 vote threshold.
This year, few amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act received a vote because of parliamentary actions taken by Majority Leader Reid.
There were, as you now, two votes related to Guantánamo Bay Prison. The first was a vote on Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)'s amendment to restrict the Defense Department's ability to return Guantánamo detainees to their home countries. The latter was Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ)'s amendment to limit the legal rights of Guantánamo detainees brought to the United States. Both amendments failed. The former failed 43 to 55, and the latter failed 52 to 46.
You rightfully categorize the Ayotte amendment's failure as a liberal victory. However, I would dissent from your categorization of the failure of the Levin-McCain amendment as a conservative victory. Since when was limiting the rights of prisoners held in indefinite detention a "liberal" policy?
If you look at the roll call vote for the McCain-Levin amendment, you will find that there were two sources of opposition: opposition to transfer and opposition to limiting rights. Liberal senators Pat Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden--as well as Rand Paul (R-KY) from the other side of the aisle--voted against it for the latter reason. The other 40 Republican opponents and conservative Democrat Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted against it for the former reason. You can identify this grouping by contrasting the roll calls for the two amendments. Later comments by Senator Sanders bear this out as well.
Your analysis also excludes the final vote on passage of the NDAA, a rather stunning omission. The NDAA passed 84 to 15 on December 19. 12 conservative Republicans--Barrasso (R-WY), Coburn (R-OK), Corker (R-TN), Crapo (R-ID),
Cruz (R-TX), Enzi (R-WY), Flake (R-AZ), Lee (R-UT), Risch (R-ID), Sessions (R-AL), and Shelby (R-AL)-- and 3 liberal members of the Democratic caucus--Merkely (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), and Wyden (D-OR)--voted against it. You may have excluded it because the reasons for opposition varied so widely within parties. Bob Corker opposed it because of "excessive spending" while Ted Cruz opposed it because of its preservation of indefinite detention powers. Bernie Sanders cited Pentagon waste, cost overruns, and financial mismanagement, while Jeff Merkley opposed it because it continues the US troop presence in Afghanistan for another decade. Such varied opposition can pose problems for a rigid liberal/conservative binary; however, such a vote is too important to ignore, and a rating system should be able to account for such nuance.
On February 26th, the Senate confirmed Jack Lew as the new Secretary of the Treasury 71 to 26 (roll call 25). 51 members of the Democratic caucus and 20 Republicans voted to confirm him; 25 Republicans and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against confirmation.
By labeling this vote as a "liberal" victory, you subsume Sanders's opposition from the left with the majority opposition from the right. For your consideration, here is Sanders's statement on his opposition to Lew's confirmation:
“Jack Lew is clearly an extremely intelligent person and I applaud his many years of public service to our country. I believe that he will be confirmed by the Senate. Unfortunately, he will be confirmed without my vote. At a time when the middle class is collapsing and millions of workers are unemployed, I do not believe he is the right person at the right time to serve in this important position.The inability to understand left opposition to a Democratic president's nomination also shows in the labeling of the confirmation of John Brennan, the architect of the expansion of the drone war and a staunch opponent of releasing the Senate's torture report, as head of the CIA (roll call 32). Brennan was confirmed 63 to 34. 50 members of the Democratic caucus and 13 Republicans voted for confirmation, and 31 Republicans and 3 members of the Democratic caucus--Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pat Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR)--voted against confirmation.
“As a supporter of the president, I remain extremely concerned that virtually all of his key economic advisers have come from Wall Street. In my view, we need a treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person.
“We don't need a treasury secretary who thinks that Wall Street deregulation was not responsible for the financial crisis. We need a treasury secretary who will work hard to break up too-big-to-fail financial institutions so that Wall Street cannot cause another massive financial crisis.
“We don’t need another treasury secretary who believes in ‘deficit neutral’ corporate tax reform. We need a treasury secretary willing to fight to make sure that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share in taxes to reduce the deficit and create jobs.
“We don't need a treasury secretary who will advise the president that he should negotiate with the Republicans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We need someone who is going to strengthen these programs.
“We don’t need another treasury secretary who believes that NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China have been good for the American economy. We need someone in the White House who works to fundamentally re-write our trade policy to make sure that we are exporting American goods, not American jobs.
Here is the statement from Senator Sanders on his NO vote:
“While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans. With regard to the use of drones and other methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, I am not convinced that Mr. Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security.”Here is the statement given by Pat Leahy on his NO vote:
“I have worked with John Brennan, and I respect his record, his experience, and his dedication to public service. But the administration has stonewalled me and the Judiciary Committee for too long on a reasonable request to review the legal justification for the use of drones in the targeted killing of American citizens. The administration made the relevant OLC memorandum available to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in order to advance this nomination. I expect the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel, to be afforded the same access. For that reason, I reluctantly opposed Mr. Brennan’s nomination.”And here is the statement from Jeff Merkley on his NO vote:
“The Bush Administration was far too quick to sacrifice our core constitutional values that guarantee freedom in the name of fighting terrorism, and while the Obama administration has attempted to turn the page on some important infringements on civil liberties, too many of those Bush-era policies continue. We need new leadership in our intelligence community to help steer our nation toward a clear re-affirmation of our values. John Brennan, an inside player in both administrations, is not the right person for that job.Your analysis also excludes the roll call votes on the confirmations of two other Obama nominees whom Sanders opposed: Penny Pritzker (roll call 161) and Michael Froman (roll call 158).
“I have deep concerns with the Obama Administration’s continuation of Bush-era policies related to warrantless wiretapping and the collection of electronic records pertaining to the activities of ordinary citizens. I have concerns about policies that allow the administration to strip due process rights from Americans it chooses to deem enemy combatants. Those lost rights constitute core Constitutional values including the requirement to show cause for detaining a citizen, the right to a public trial, and the right to confront those who bear evidence against you. I am also deeply concerned about the implications of the administration’s policy on drone strikes. And I am troubled that so much of the legal justification for these policies remains secret, preventing Congress, let alone the American people, from weighing the trade-offs.
“We can and should protect America from our enemies without compromising the very essence of American freedom and rule of law. We need someone at the CIA who will lead us towards counterterrorism policies that reflect and respect Americans’ deep faith in our Constitution. I don’t believe John Brennan is the right person for that challenge.”
On June 25, Penny Pritzker was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce on a vote of 97 to 1.
That "1" was Senator Sanders, who expressed his discontent in the following statement:
“We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEOs and large corporations. Ms. Pritzker served on the board of one of the most anti-worker hotel chains in this country. Workers at Hyatt have been unjustly fired for trying to form a union to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Unfortunately, Ms. Pritzker chose not to defend those employees.”The week prior, Michael Froman was confirmed as US Trade Representative on a vote of 93 to 4 to 1. The 4 NO votes were Sanders, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Carl Levin (D-MI). The 1 there was Barbara Boxer (D-CA)'s vote of PRESENT. I'm not sure whether your classification system can account for such a vote without conflating it with the very different "NOT VOTING."
Elizabeth Warren's opposition from the left drew attention because of her corresponding floor speech. She concluded with the following words, after detailing Froman's rejection of her calls for transparency in negotiating trade deals:
I am voting against Mr. Froman's nomination later today because I believe we need a new direction from the Trade Representative -- A direction that prioritizes transparency and public debate. The American people have the right to know more about the negotiations that will have dramatic impact on the future of the American economy. And that will have a dramatic impact on our working men and women, on the environment, on the Internet.Conclusion
As ideology is a subject for the humanities, not the sciences, it is not something that can be readily reduced to numbers. Moreover, a focus on roll call votes alone ignores the many ways that Senators can work to strengthen, weaken, or otherwise shape a bill before it ever reaches a vote; the amendments that never see a vote; and the bills that never see the light of Committee. Quantitative analyses of ideology based on roll call votes thus can be useful but within bounds. However, for them to have such usefulness, they must be thorough in their analysis and nimble in their understanding of nuance.