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Barack Obama controversies

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The following is a list of major controversies that have dogged Barack Obama throughout his political career, and have received major media coverage and prominence.

Born Alive Votes Controversy

Main Article: Obama born alive controversy

From 1996-2003, Barack Obama made at least 7 controversial votes against bills mandating medical care for newborn children after late-term, botched abortions known as D&E procedures. During this time Obama headed an Illinois Planned Parenthood strategy to vote 'Present' on the controversial bills to provide political cover for other Illinois Senators since in the words of Pam Sutherland, head of the IL Planned Parenthood Council, "He came to me and said: ‘My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women. A ‘present’ vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted. What it did was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. A ‘present’ vote would protect them. Your senator voted ‘present.’ Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."[1]

The votes are especially controversial because they fall outside the typical Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice debate, dealing not with abortion, but children left to die after botched abortions. In 2002 the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act made it a U.S. crime to let children die like this, and the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed outlawing the specific D&E procedures making them possible, even declaring this to be "Infanticide" in Section 2, 14(G) and 14(O).[2] The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act had 70% public approval by the time of its passage[3] (a 2011 poll shows 64% support[4]) yet the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was far more popular, to the extent that in Obama's own words, it was "the federal bill that everybody supported."[5]

Substantial controversy has surrounded Barack Obama's voting record since 2004, when Alan Keyes, his opponent for the U.S. Senate, made Obama's record central to his campaign. Since then, Jill Stanek, a central witness before Congress, whose moving testimony led to passage of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has been the primary critic of Obama's voting record on the issue. The issue featured prominently in the 2008 presidential election as well, with both Sarah Palin and John McCain raising the issue, and major press coverage by CNN and other news media reporting on the controversy. Obama ultimately voted 'Present' or 'No' on 7 of the 'Born Alive' bills:

  • SB 1082 (2003 Born Alive Infant Defined Act)[6]
  • SB 1661 (2002 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[7][8]
  • SB 1662 (2002)[9]
  • SB 1093 (2001 Born Alive Infants Protection Act)[10][11]
  • SB 1094 (2001 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[12][13]
  • SB 1095 (2001 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act)[14][15][16][17]
  • SB 230 (1997 Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act)[18][19]

His exact words on the Senate floor (see 1996-2003 Illinois Senate Transcripts) show that he recognized at the time newborn children were being left to die but opposed the bills for various reasons, including that (a) the child wasn't born to a full 9-month term and therefore is a pre-viable fetus, (b) The Illinois Medical Society opposed the bill, and (c) if children were being left to die an abortion physician would care for the child and requiring a 2nd physician verify the child is alive just burdens abortion doctors.

The issue resurfaced in February 2012 when Newt Gingrich said, "If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama, who as a state senator voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion"[20]. Rick Santorum likewise repeated this, saying, "any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed."[21] Newt Gingrich later accused the national media of not covering Obama's controversial history on the Born Alive bills.[22]

Birth Certificate Controversy

The claim that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. proved a major controversy from 2008. The claims have been based not so much on actual, substantial evidence that he was not born in the U.S., so much as on as whether the evidence that he was is suitable, in short, trying to prove a negative. The following is a timeline of events showing that Obama was born in the United States, and revealing the controversy is unfounded.

  • In June 2008 the Obama campaign allowed to look at his “Certificate of Live Birth” and take photos.[23]
  • In July 2008 a blogger discovered a birth announcement from the Honolulu Advertiser from August 13, 1961 for Barack Obama. It has since been discovered another newspaper, the Star Bulletin, also documented the birth.[24]
  • PolitiFact went to extreme lengths to verify Obama’s citizenship, attaining scanned copies of his 1992 marriage certificate from Cook County, IL, his driver’s license record, and his registration and disciplinary record.3 PolitiFact also addressed a number of concerns about the documentation.[25]
  • In October 2008 Hawaii’s Department of Health released a statement by Dr. Chiyome Fukino verifying that Obama’s birth certificate was on record.[26]
  • In August 2009 it was revealed that an alleged Kenyan birth certificate for Obama was a hoax.[27] Another website allows you to create your own imitation Kenyan birth certificates online.[28]
  • On April 27, 2011[29], a long-running controversy surrounding Obama's birth was largely put to rest[30] when Obama had his long-form birth certificate posted at[31] Donald Trump, who had attacked Obama on the Birth Certificate issue and was then leading Republicans in polls for the upcoming GOP primary[32], was effectively knocked out of the race because of this.[33]

Chicago Politics Controversies

1996 Election Controversy

Main Article: Barack_Obama#1996_Election

Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996. He was initially supported by incumbent Alice Palmer, who declared she would run for the U.S. Congress. However, when her bid for Congress failed on November 28, 1995, she tried to run for her old seat in the March 1996 election. Her supporters asked Obama to step aside, although whether this was with her permission remains uncertain.[34] Not only did Obama not step down, he gathered a team of high-priced lawyers, including fellow Harvard Law School graduate Thomas Johnson, to challenge his opponent's petition signatures on technicalities after the filing deadline had passed. Such tactics are legal and frequently used in Chicago; in 2006 they eliminated 67 of the 245 aldermanic candidates;[35] yet nevertheless led to the term "hardball" by the New York Times[34] and "cutthroat" by David Mendel as reported by both CNN[36] and MSNBC.[37] The Chicago Tribune declared Obama had mastered "the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics", noting "The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it."[35] As one of Obama's four opponents, eliminated through his ballot challenges, would put it:

"Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"

-Gha-is Askia, 1996 Illinois Senate candidate[38]

Mark Ewell, another candidate, filed 1,286 signatures, and Obama's challenges left him 86 short of the minimum requirement (757[39]). Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the election board's decision but Tom Johnson intervened, and Ewell's case was dismissed just a few days later. Ewell and other Obama opponents were using early 1995 polling sheets to verify signatures of registered voters, but city authorities had just purged 15,871 unqualified people from the 13th district list, and Obama's challenges used the more recent, updated list. Askia was left 69 signatures short of the requirement. If names were printed instead of signed in cursive, they were declared invalid. If they were good but the person registering the signatures wasn't a registered voter (e.g. underage) they were invalid.[40] Palmer had according to Obama campaign consult Ronald Davis, used two children to help gather her petition signatures. To this day Palmer denies the challenges were valid, and maintains she could have overcome the objections with more time and resources.[35] Thanks to his lawyers, Obama would win the election without a single other candidate on the ballot.

2003 Emil Jones Deal Controversy

Main Article: 2003 Barack Obama deal with Emil Jones

When Illinois' U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announced he would be retiring in April 2003, Obama jumped at the opportunity, declaring that he would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004.[37] To boost his chances at reaching the U.S. Congress in the 2004 elections, in 2003 Barack Obama approached the newly crowned head of the Illinois Senate, Emil Jones Jr., with a proposal. According to Jones, who Obama has since called his "godfather"[41] the conversation went as follows:

Left to Right, Rod Blagojevich, Emil Jones, and Jeffrey Schoenberg.
"After I was elected president, in 2003, he came to see me, a couple months later. And he said to me, he said, ‘You’re the senate president now, and with that, you have a lot of pow-er.’  And I told Barack, ‘You think I got a lot of pow-er now?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you got a lot of pow-er.’ And I said, ‘What kind of pow-er do I have?’ He said, ‘You have the pow-er to make a United States sen-a-tor!’  I said to Barack, I said, ‘That sounds good!’ I said, ‘I haven’t even thought of that.’ I said, ‘Do you have someone in mind you think I could make?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Me.’ "[42][34]

Because of the deal, Obama's entire Illinois Senate legislative record was, as longtime Obama reporter Todd Spivak put it, built in a single year. During his 7th and final year in the Illinois Senate, Obama sponsored an incredible 26 bills into law, including many he now points to when criticized as inexperienced[39] - as CNN's Suzanne Malveaux observed, "With help from on high, Obama got his name on hundreds of bills that he pushed through."[36] Jones not only had Obama craft legislation addressing daily tragedies to raise his political profile[41], he also appointed Obama head of almost all high-profile legislation in the Illinois Senate, angering other state legislators with more seniority who'd spent years supporting the bills.[39] Illinois State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of the famous racial profiling bill requiring videotaped confessions in police interrogations, complained bitterly about Jones' decision.[36][43] Jones' influence had a major impact on Obama's chances in the 2004 elections, preventing major political players from backing Obama's opponents. To quote Emil Jones,

"He knew if he had me in the run for the Senate, it would put a block on the current mayor. The current mayor and the father of the controller, which was Dan Hynes, they were roommates in Springfield when the mayor was a state senator, so they had a relationship. Another big financial backer for the governor was Blair Hull. Barack knew if he had me it would checkmate the governor, ’cause the governor couldn’t come out and go with Blair Hull, ’cause the governor needs me. Same with the mayor. So he had analyzed and figured all of that out. He knew I could help him with labor support. And I could put a checkmate on some of the local politicians that didn’t know him, but they couldn’t really go against me."

-Emil Jones[42]


  1. Davis, Teddy (2007, July 17). "Obama Abortion Dodges Blessed by Planned Parenthood, ABC News.
  2. United States Congress (2003, March 13). "S.3: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003."
  3. Ray, J. (2003, July 8). "Gallup Brain: Opinions on Partial-Birth Abortions." Gallup.
  4. Gallup. "Abortion." pg. 1.
  5. Brody, David (2008, August 16). "McCain/Obama Forum." CNN. Uploaded to YouTube by Jill Stanek.
    David Brody (August 16, 2008). "Obama Gets Heated on Born Alive Infant Protection Act." CBN News. The Brody File.
  6. Illinois General Assembly. Bill Status of SB 1082. 93rd General Assembly.
  7. (2002, April 4). 92nd General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 29-35.
  8. State of Illinois. 92nd General Assembly Legislation: SB 1661.
  9. State of Illinois. 92nd General Assembly Legislation: SB 1662.
  10. (2001, March 30). 92nd General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 84-88.
  11. Status of SB 1093. 92nd General Assembly.
  12. Illinois General Assembly. Status of SB 1094. 92nd General Assembly.
  13. (2001, March 30). 92nd General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 88-89.
  14. Illinois General Assembly. Criminal Offenses: 720 ILCS/513/ Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Illinois Compiled Statutes.
  15. Illinois General Assembly. Status of SB 1095. 92nd General Assembly.
  16. State of Illinois. 92nd General Assembly Senate Vote: Senate Bill No. 1095.
  17. (2001, March 30). 92nd General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 89-90.
  18. Illinois General Assembly. 90th General Assembly: Status of SB 0230.
  19. (1997, March 18). 90th General Assembly Regular Session Senate Transcript. State of Illinois. pp. 59-66.
  20. Woodward, C. & Raum, T. (2012, February 23). "FACT CHECK: Candidates make errant claims during GOP debate." Associated Press.
  21. Yellin, J. & Metzger, T. (2012, February 24). "Fact-checking Gingrich's charge Obama voted in favor of 'infanticide'." CNN Politics.
  22. Brennan, P. (2012, February 29). "Obama's Infanticide Votes." National Review.
    Farley, R. (2012, February 23). "Did Elite Media Ignore Infanticide?"
  23. Henig, J. (2008, August 21). Born in the U.S.A. Retrieved from
  24. Barack Obama Birth Certificate. Retrieved from
  25. Hollyfield, A. (2008, June 27). Obama’s birth certificate: Final chapter. PolitiFact. Retrieved from
  26. Hawaii Department of Health. News Release: Statement by Dr. Chiyome Fukino. Retrieved from
  27. Kenyan Mistake. Retrieved from
  28. Blue Collar Industries. Retrieved from
  29. CNN Political Unit (2011, April 27). "White House Releases Obama Birth Certificate." CNN
  30. Winter, J. (2011, April 29). "Expert: No Doubt Obama's Birth Certificate is Legit." FOX News.
    Tuchman, G. (2011, April 25). "Obama Birther Claims Have No Merit." CNN.
    (2011, April 27). "Obama Releases Detailed U.S. Birth Certificate." MSNBC.
  31. "Certificate of Live Birth." State of Hawaii. Retrieved from
  32. James, F. (2011, April 15). "Donald Trump, Birther In Chief? Poll Has Him Leading GOP Field with 26 Percent." NPR.
  33. Kapur, S. (2011, May 10). "Trump's Popularity Tanks After Obama Releases Long-Form Birth Certificate."
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Scott, Janny (2007, July 30). "In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd." New York Times.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Jackson, David & Long, Ray (2007, April 4). "Barack Obama: Showing His Bare Knuckles." Chicago Tribune.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Malveaux, Suzanne (2008, August 20). "Barack Obama Revealed." CNN.
  37. 37.0 37.1 MSNBC (2008, February 20). "Obama Becomes Rising Star Among Democrats."
  38. Jackson, David & Long, Ray (2007, April 3). "Obama Knows His Way Around a Ballot." Chicago Tribune.
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Spivak, Todd (2008, February 28). "Barack Obama and Me." Houston Press.
  40. Griffin, Drew & Johnston, Kathleen (2008, May 29). "Obama Played Hardball in First Chicago Campaign." CNN.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Associated Press (2009, June 18). "Obama's Political 'Godfather' In Illinois."
  42. 42.0 42.1 Purdum, Todd (2008, March). "Raising Obama." Vanity Fair.
  43. Spivak, Todd (2004, March 25). "In the Black." Illinois Times.