Fact Check

Al Gore War Vote

Did Al Gore sell his Gulf War vote?

Published Oct. 9, 2000



Claim:   Al Gore offered to sell his Senate vote on a 1991 Gulf War resolution to whichever side would give him more publicity.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2000]

I thought it important to share the following letter from former Sen. Alan Simpson: No matter your politics, most people agree that Sen. Simpson is a straight shooter. Please pass on to anyone whose interested.

In 1991, the Gulf War vote was very serious business. I can't think of anyone who didn't have a lump in his or her throat while weighing the situation: 500,000 Americans troops already deployed; Saddam

Hussein promising the "mother of all battles"; most "experts" predicting heavy American losses.

The choice was not an easy one. Senators with combat experience on both sides of the aisle were on both sides of the issue. Some Democrats openly supported the measure; some Republicans openly

opposed it. And vice versa.

The seriousness of the situation called for open, honest debate. No deal-making. No cajoling. No politics. Just an honest discussion, followed by an honest vote of conscience by each senator.

I worked with the Republican leader, Bob Dole, and the Democratic leaders, George Mitchell and Sam Nunn, to schedule the debate. As Republicans, Bob and I were responsible for scheduling time to speak

for senators who supported the war. As Democrats, George and Sam were responsible for scheduling time to speak for those who opposed the war.

The night before this monumental debate, I sat in the Republican cloakroom with Sen. Dole. The mood was somber. The tension was palpable. We were on the verge of sending troops to war. Our national credibility was on the line.

Would America stand up to tyranny and aggression in the Middle East? This was not some issue to be taken lightly. As Bob and I discussed the debate schedule for the next day, a senator walked into our cloakroom and asked to speak to us. The senator's appearance and request surprised Bob and me. It surprised us because the senator was a Democrat, coming to ask for a favor. Who was that man? It was

Tennessee Sen. Al Gore Jr.

Sen. Gore got right to the point: "How much time will you give me if I support the president?" In layman's terms, Gore was asking how much debate time we would be willing to give him to speak on the floor if he

voted with us.

"How much time will the Democrats give you?" Sen. Dole asked in response. "Seven minutes," came the droning response. "I'll give you 15 minutes," Sen. Dole said. "And I'll give you five of mine, so you can have 20 minutes," I offered.

Gore seemed pleased, but made no final commitment, promising only to think it over. Sen. Gore played hard to get. He had received his time. But now he wanted prime time. And Sen. Dole and I knew it.

After Sen. Gore left, Sen. Dole asked Howard Greene, the Republican Senate secretary, to call Gore's office and promise that he would try to schedule Gore's 20 minutes during prime time, thus ensuring plenty of coverage in the news cycle.

Later that night, Sen. Gore called Greene and asked if Sen. Dole had scheduled him for a prime-time speaking slot. When Greene said nothing had been finalized yet, Gore erupted, "Damn it, Howard! If I don't get 20 minutes tomorrow I'm going to vote the other way!"

The following day, Gore arrived on the Senate floor with, I always thought, two speeches in hand. Gore was still waiting to see which side - Republicans or Democrats - would offer him the most and the best speaking time.

Sen. Dole immediately asked the Senate to increase the amount of speaking time for bothsides. I believe only then, after Gore realized we were asking for more time to make room for him on our side, that he finally

decided to support the resolution authorizing the use of force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

It brings me no joy to recount the events leading up to the Gulf War vote in January, 1991. Writing this letter isn't something I wanted to do, but instead something I have to do. I was there and witnessed Al Gore

putting politics over principle.

The Gore campaign is now running an ad proclaiming that Gore "broke with his own party to support the Gulf War." In reality, it's much closer to the truth to say he broke for the cameras to support the Gulf War!

As a member of the United States Senate for 18 years, I've seen many senators show their stuff when times got tough, and sadly, I saw some who failed to rise to the occasion.

I have to set the record straight because the Gulf war vote was far too important an issue to fall victim to politics and repulsive revisionism. It was a moment of challenge, that Al Gore was not up to.

Alan Simpson

Origins:   Former Senators Alan Simpson and Bob Dole have been charging since 1992 that then-Senator Al Gore broke with his party (one of only ten Democrats to do so) and voted for a resolution supporting the Gulf War in 1991 because siding with the Republicans gave him more publicity. Gore, of course, has maintained that his vote was an "example of his independence of mind and principled approach to governing" and the claims of Simpson and Dole are politically-motivated fabrications, so the issue essentially boils down to a "He said, he said" argument about which side one finds more credible.

Is there any evidence that comes from someone other than the three principals involved? Sure, but it too is contradictory. The Boston Globe reported that others remembered hearing second-hand of Gore's maneuvering at the time:

Two of Simpson's former aides said this week that they did not witness the conversation between Gore and the GOP leaders, but remember Dole and Simpson talking about it soon thereafter.

However, the same article also reported that Marla Romash, an adviser to Gore who was on his Senate staff at the time of the Gulf War, said:

I was with him at midnight when he walked out the door of the office, after a long conversation, and he still had not made up his mind. It was routine in the Senate at that time to notify the leader of which side you were going to speak to request time. He notified Dole and [Senator George] Mitchell, knowing he might come down on either side.

and a Democratic aide who was present maintained that Gore would have received the same amount of time to speak no matter which side he supported:

A Democratic floor aide at the time, however, said Simpson's charges were ludicrous. Not only was there no Senate flap about Gore's vote, the aide said, but "it is transparently obvious that Senator Mitchell would have given Senator Gore any time he wanted. It was a close vote. If Senator Gore had asked for 20 minutes he would have gotten them."

The Boston Globe also noted that Gore's two biographers, Bob Zelnick and Bill Turque, "both of whom have dug up material that is critical of the vice president on other matters, said Simpson's charges are not supported by the facts. Indeed, both conclude that Gore's vote should be viewed as an act of moral and political courage":

Gore's two biographers, however, side with the vice president. Former ABC reporter Bob Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, said that he looked into the episode when researching his biography of Gore, which is otherwise critical of the candidate.

Zelnick's sources in the Senate, whom he would not reveal, shot down the "shopping" story and told him that Gore acted out of principle, not expediency, in the Persian Gulf debate. With just a few hours to go, Zelnick said, Gore was still consulting with Martin Peretz, a friend who publishes The New Republic magazine, and then-Representative Steve Solarz of New York, about the wisdom of war in the gulf.

In the end, Zelnick writes in his book that Gore's vote "deserves to be recognized as an act of conscience and moral courage."

And Bill Turque, a Newsweek reporter whose forthcoming book on Gore contains embarrassing material about the candidate's use of marijuana, said he thought Simpson and Sununu were engaged in "a bunch of election season spin." Turque said he "found nothing" to substantiate Simpson's allegation and agreed with Zelnick that Gore's vote on the Gulf War was "probably the most courageous vote he ever cast."

A letter to the editor Denver Rocky Mountain News made what is perhaps a telling point:

I am no big fan of Al Gore, but Simpson's entire piece was riddled with innuendo: "He seemed," "I thought," "I believe," which if presented in a court of law would have been dismissed as hearsay. Not one allegation in this article can be proved either way, and Simpson knows it.

Except for Gore's question about how much time he would get if he supported the Republicans (which is certainly subject to interpretation), most of Simpson's accusation is his supposition about Gore's motivations for asking the question, not hard evidence. A more substantial piece of evidence is Simpson's claim that Gore called Howard Greene, the Republican Senate secretary, and exclaimed "Damn it, Howard! If I don't get 20 minutes tomorrow I'm going to vote the other way!", but as far as we know, Greene has not confirmed this conversation actually took place.

The Boston Globe took a similar tack in their article:

According to Dole and Simpson, Gore approached the two GOP leaders and asked, "How much time will you give me?"

"How much time did you get from the other side?" Dole asked.

"Seven minutes," Gore replied.

"I'll give you 15 minutes," Dole said, and Simpson then offered Gore an additional five minutes of his time.

"Let me think about it," Gore said.

From that brief conversation, recounted this week by Simpson, he and Dole drew the conclusion that Gore was looking to trade his vote for a prime speaking opportunity.

It seems Gore asked a question, and Dole and Simpson drew some inferences from it. Their inferences may have been correct, but there doesn't appear to be sufficient evidence to support that conclusion for now.

Last updated:   30 November 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Balz, Dan.   "Accusations Fly of False Advertising."

    The Washington Post.   6 February 2000   (p. A7).

    Black, Eric.   "Awash in Party E-Mail Attacks."

    [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune.   14 September 2000   (p. A22).

    Cooper, Michael.   "After Debate, Cheney Shifts to the Attack."

    The New York Times.   7 October 2000   (p. A10).

    Farrell, John Aloysius.   "Simpson Says Gore 'Shopped' Gulf Vote."

    The Boston Globe.   5 February 2000   (p. A11).

    Mehren, Elizabeth and T. Christian Miller.   "Campaigns Make Personal Attacks."

    Los Angeles Times.   5 February 2000   (p. A13).

    Turque, Bill.   Inventing Al Gore.

    Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.   ISBN 0-395-88323-7.

    Walsh, Edward.   "Cheney Rips Gore's 'Problem' with Credibility."

    The Washington Post.   7 October 2000   (p. A14).

    Zelnick, Bob.   Gore: A Political Life.

    Washington, DC: Regenery Publishing, 1999.   ISBN 0-89526-326-2.

    Denver Rocky Mountain News.   "Letters."

    10 September 2000   (p. B8).

    Denver Rocky Mountain News.   "Letters."

    19 September 2000   (p. A47).

    The Detroit News.   "Letters."

    15 September 2000   (p. 16).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.