Don’t expect help from Congress re/Iraq


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

March 16, 2007

Senate Rejects Democrats¹ Call to Pull Troops

WASHINGTON, March 15 ‹ The Senate on Thursday rejected a Democratic resolution 
to withdraw most American combat troops from Iraq in 2008, but a similar measure
advanced in the House, and Democratic leaders vowed to keep challenging 
President Bush to change course in Iraq.

The vote in the Senate was 50 against and 48 in favor, 12 short of what was 
needed to pass, with just a few defections in each party. It came just hours 
after the House Appropriations Committee, in another vote largely on party 
lines, approved an emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that 
includes a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. The House will vote on that 
legislation next Thursday, setting the stage for another confrontation.

The action in both houses threw into sharp relief the Democratic strategy of 
ratcheting up the pressure, vote by vote, to try to force the White House to 
begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. But it also highlighted Republican unity in 
opposition; in the Senate, only one Republican, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, voted
with the Democrats.

Republican leaders said they counted the day as a victory. ³It is clear now that
the majority of the Senate opposes a deadline for the withdrawal of troops,² 
said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. Senator Harry 
Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, countered, ³The Republicans are 
rubber-stamping the president¹s failed policy. That¹s the message here.²

President Bush, speaking at a Republican fund-raising dinner, applauded the 
senators who voted against a timetable. ³Many of those members know what I know:
that if American forces were to step back from Baghdad now, before the capital 
city is more secure, the scale and scope of attacks would increase and 
intensify,² he said.

The Democratic resolution in the Senate would have redefined the United States 
mission in Iraq and set a goal of withdrawing American combat troops by March 
31, 2008, except for a ³limited number² focused on counterterrorism, training 
and equipping Iraqi forces, and protecting American and allied personnel. The 
House measure set a withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.

The prospects that either the House or the Senate measure would will win final 
passage were always considered slim, given that the Senate legislation needed a 
so-called supermajority of 60 to advance. Even so, the White House issued 
forceful veto threats, sending a clear signal to Republicans where the president
stood. The White House also worked behind the scenes this week to keep 
Republicans on board.

Both parties consider these measures an important political statement, a measure
of how far the debate over Iraq has moved in recent months, and a sign of 
Americans¹ discontent with the war.

But Senator Norm Coleman, a moderate Republican from Minnesota who voted against
the Democratic measure, argued that the final vote could still be misleading. 
³There is frustration and deep concern about the war,² said Mr. Coleman, who is 
facing a tough re-election fight next year.

As they left the Senate floor, several other moderate Republicans who are facing
difficult re-election campaigns next year were quick to register their 
opposition to the president¹s overall Iraq strategy. But they said they were 
leery of legislating a troop pullout to begin within four months.

³That is such a short time frame for withdrawal,² said Senator Susan Collins, a 
Maine Republican, who opposed the president¹s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

In the end, the Senate resolution did not attract the contingent of seven 
Republican moderates who joined Democrats in opposing Mr. Bush¹s troop buildup 
plan last month. The only Republican defection was Mr. Smith of Oregon, who said
in a statement, ³Setting specific dates for withdrawal is unwise, but what is 
worse is remaining mired in the quicksand of the Sunni-Shia civil war.²

Two Democratic Senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, 
crossed party lines to oppose the withdrawal plan. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, 
an independent and staunch supporter of Mr. Bush¹s Iraq policy, voted as 
expected with the Republicans. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican 
running for president, was campaigning in Iowa at the time of the vote.

Democrats asserted that the only alternative to their plan was endorsing, once 
again, the status quo in Iraq. In a debate steeped in anger and dismay, Senator 
Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia declared, ³We were wrong to invade, we were 
wrong to think victory would be quick or easy, and we are wrong to stay on in 
occupation that earns us only hatred ‹ with no end, no end, no end in sight.²

Republicans declared that the resolution would be devastating to the American 
war effort, ³like sending a memo to our enemy,² or ³giving notice to the other 
side of when we¹re going to depart,² in the words of Mr. McConnell.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly on Thursday in favor of a pair of 
nonbinding resolutions, one Democratic and one Republican, expressing support 
for the troops in Iraq and pledging to provide them with all necessary funds. 
Republicans have asserted that Democratic policies to end the war will 
eventually lead to a financing cut that will harm the troops. Democrats 
furiously deny that charge and have seized on the scandal over poor conditions 
at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as evidence that Republicans are not true
champions of the troops.

Despite the flurry of votes, the Iraq debate in the Senate is far from over. 
Senate Democrats said they would try to influence the president¹s Iraq policy 
when they begin taking up the administration¹s military spending request next 

Across the Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee advanced its version of 
that legislation by a vote of 36 to 28. It was considered a major test vote, 
with Representative Barbara Lee of California the lone Democrat voting against 
it. ³The American people sent a mandate to us to bring home our men and women 
before the end of the year,² Ms. Lee said. ³I don¹t think the president deserves
another chance.²

As she spoke, two protesters sat in the back of the hearing room, holding a sign
handwritten with black ink on pink paper that said: ³Wake up. Stop Buying Bush¹s
War.² Other antiwar activists milled about outside the committee room, 
occasionally confronting lawmakers as they came and went.

Largely because of the strength of antiwar sentiment in the House Democratic 
caucus, and complaints that the legislation¹s timetable is not fast enough, 
party leaders still face a fragile majority when they bring this legislation to 
the full House next week. While the House proposal calls for most American 
combat troops to be removed from Iraq no later than Aug. 31, 2008, it would 
require the drawdown to start up to a year earlier if the Iraqi government 
cannot show progress.

The plan also places conditions on the war financing, including a requirement 
that troops receive proper training, equipment and a period of rest between 
deployments. As a gesture to conservatives, the legislation would allow the 
president to waive those requirements on national security grounds.

³In World War II, troops were in action 30, 40, 50 days and then got relief,² 
said Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat. ³Now, we don¹t have
the troops to relieve them.²

But Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, accused Democrats of 
loading up the legislation ‹ which now has a price tag of $124 billion ‹ with an
array of sweeteners, simply to draw support for a controversial plan to bring 
closure to the Iraq war.

³Welcome Kmart shoppers,² Mr. Rogers said. ³This is the shopping mart for those 
who are nervous about supporting the precipitous withdrawal of troops. This is 
an effort to buy votes.²

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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