Bush ve­toes war dead­line; lead­ers will start over on bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jon Ward and S.A. Miller

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.

Getty Images

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.”

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