Bush vetoes war deadline; leaders will start over on bill
President Bush on May 1 rejected Democratic plans to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, vetoing an emergency spending bill that included a timeline to begin withdrawing forces as soon as July.
“It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing,” Mr. Bush said in a nationally televised speech moments after vetoing the bill. “All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq.”
The $124 billion bill now heads back to Congress, where Democrats lack the votes to override the president’s veto.
Mr. Bush met at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties on May 2 to talk about the way forward on his funding request.
“I’m confident that with good will on both sides, we can agree on a bill that gets our troops the money and flexibility they need as soon as possible,” the president said.
Democratic leaders responded to the veto with a short press conference of their own, signaling that they would not stop pressing Mr. Bush to pull troops out of Iraq.
“If the president thinks by vetoing this bill, he will stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Under the legislation that passed both chambers of Congress in near party-line votes, the troop withdrawal would have started July 1 if the Iraqi government did not meet certain policy benchmarks, but no later than Oct. 1.
The president, using a pen given to him by the father of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq, signed the second veto of his administration just minutes after returning from a day trip to Florida, where he met with military commanders, and just hours after receiving the bill from Democratic congressional leaders. The veto also came on the fourth anniversary of the famous “Mission Accomplished” speech that Mr. Bush gave aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared that major combat operations had ended in Iraq.
Negotiations can begin anew on a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Pentagon is already raiding other military accounts to pay for combat operations until July.
“The need to act is urgent,” Mr. Bush said.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats do not plan to keep funding the war without putting pressure on the Iraqi government to take control of security.
“The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
However, top Democrats have signaled that they are slowly backing down from the veto standoff with Mr. Bush. Senior Democratic aides to Mrs. Pelosi privately acknowledged that eventually, the “money will get to the troops without timetables.”
But on May 1, Democrats reveled in their showdown with the president and in the timing of his veto.
Despite passing the bill five days earlier, Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi waited to send the legislation to the president until May 1, the fourth anniversary of his speech on the aircraft carrier.
Mr. Bush’s critics say the speech is emblematic of the misguided war effort.
More than a dozen House Democrats lined up for morning floor speeches marking the anniversary with calls for Mr. Bush to sign the pullout bill.
“On the fourth anniversary of ‘Mission Accomplished,’ the president is faced with a choice: Either listen to the will of the American people [. . . ] or continue to send our brave men and women into harm’s way to police a religious civil war,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, Florida Democrat.
The White House countered that the speech was meant to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq and the end of the carrier’s tour of duty, not the end of the war.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino denounced the Democrats’ timing.
“It is a trumped-up political stunt that is the height of cynicism, and it’s very disturbing to think that they possibly held up this money for the troops and the troops’ families [. . . ] to try some PR stunt on this day,” Mrs. Perino said.
Mrs. Pelosi said that the timing of the signing ceremony was coincidental and that the bill’s signing was delayed a day because of the April 30 funeral in Los Angeles for Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Reid has been courting Republican support for compromise war-funding legislation and saying Democrats can use other bills to confront Mr. Bush on Iraq.
Republican leaders in both chambers said their caucus could accept benchmarks for progress in Iraq without the associated troop-withdrawal deadlines.
On to Round 2: As promised, President Bush sent the emergency war-funding bill back to Congress, saying that timelines would aid the insurgency. “It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing.”