Reid move is lost: Se­nate halts Iraq pull­out, cash cut­off

The Washington Times Weekly - - NATIONAL - By S.A. Miller

The Se­nate on May 16 over­whelm­ingly re­jected a bid to pull out troops from Iraq and cut off funds for com­bat, a bruis­ing de­feat for Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid that high­lights the Demo­cratic split over how far to go in op­pos­ing the war.

The amend­ment, which was cospon­sored by Mr. Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, died in a 67-29 pro­ce­dural vote, with 47 Repub­li­cans, 19 Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent block­ing the plan to start a troop with­drawal in 120 days and cut off funds March 31 to most mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Iraq.

“We don’t want to send the mes­sage to the troops” that they lost the back­ing of Congress, said Sen. Carl Levin of Michi­gan, chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and one of sev­eral key Democrats to de­fect. “We’re go­ing to sup­port those troops.”

Twenty-eight Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent sup­ported the mea­sure, far shy of the sig­nif­i­cant show­ing that Mr. Reid had pre­dicted would pro­pel Congress into a “po­si­tion of strength” in war-fund­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the White House. The vote came as the ap­proval rat­ing of the Demo­crat-led Congress con­sumed by war mea­sures dropped to 29 per­cent in a Gallup poll last week, four points be­low Mr. Bush’s 33 per­cent rat­ing.

Sen. James H. Webb Jr., a Vir­ginia Demo­crat who voted against the amend­ment, said a ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers op­pose the war, but cut­ting off funds and pulling out troops un­der­cuts the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s diplo­matic ef­forts.

“Re­cent ini­tia­tives from Sec­re­tary of State Rice, Am­bas­sador Crocker and Ad­mi­ral Fal­lon, the new com­man­der of the Cen­tral Com­mand, hold out the hope, if not the prom­ise, that we might ac­tu­ally start to turn this thing around,” Mr. Webb said on the Se­nate floor.

“An ar­bi­trary cut­off date would, at this point, take away an im­por­tant ne­go­ti­at­ing tool.”

The same po­lit­i­cal forces that have pushed Mr. Reid to the left also helped keep the four Se­nate Democrats run­ning for pres­i­dent in lock­step with the lead­er­ship on the troop pull­out vote.

Sens. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. and Christo­pher J. Dodd, who voted for the war in 2002, and Sen. Barack Obama, who wasn’t in the Se­nate but spoke out in op­po­si­tion to the war at the time, all voted for the amend­ment.

Mr. Dodd was the first of the can­di­dates to pub­licly sign on to the plan to choke off war fund­ing, and he made it a cam­paign is­sue, run­ning TV ads last week to drive the point home to pri­mary vot­ers.

That prompted a ma­jor turn­around for Mrs. Clin­ton, who pre­vi­ously an­gered Demo­cratic ac­tivists by re­fus­ing to dis­avow her war vote and who, un­til this week, re­jected troop-with­drawal timeta­bles.

The pull­out plan that Mr. Reid cospon­sored with Sen. Russ Fein­gold, Wis­con­sin Demo­crat, was one of three pro­ce­dural votes on war-re­lated amend­ments at­tached to a $14 bil­lion wa­ter-projects bill.

An amend­ment by Sen. John W. Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, would re­quire Pres­i­dent Bush to re­port to Congress in July and Septem­ber and would cut for­eign aid to Iraq if suf­fi­cient progress is not made. It also al­lowed Mr. Bush to waive the aid cuts.

That amend­ment failed in a 52-44 vote, win­ning sup­port from 44 Repub­li­cans, seven Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent. Vot­ing against the leg­is­la­tion, which Mr. Reid de­scribed as “weak,” were 40 Democrats, three Repub­li­cans and one in­de­pen­dent.

The amend­ments needed 60 votes to sur­vive, known as a clo­ture vote, be­fore law­mak­ers can vote on whether to add it to the un­der­ly­ing bill.

The only war amend­ment to sur­vive the pro­ce­dural vote was one by Sen. Thad Cochran, Mis­sis­sippi Repub­li­can, which voiced the Se­nate’s sup­port for send­ing Mr. Bush a war­fund­ing bill he will sign by May 28.

It passed the clo­ture vote 87-9, with eight Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent vot­ing against.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell called the se­ries of votes a “sat­is­fy­ing out­come,” al­though he lamented that the fund­ing for the troops re­mained stalled 100 days af­ter Mr. Bush re­quested it.

“Only 29 mem­bers of the Se­nate voted for es­tab­lish­ing a date of de­feat,” the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can said.

Mr. Reid said the vote on the pull­out amend­ment had not changed the Democrats’ bar­gain­ing po­si­tion on an emer­gency war-fund­ing bill, which Congress is rush­ing to get to Mr. Bush’s desk be­fore law­mak­ers take a week­long Me­mo­rial Day re­cess be­gin­ning May 28.

“Noth­ing is off the ta­ble,” Mr. Reid said at a press con­fer­ence. “The goal re­mains to fully fund our troops and change course in Iraq.”

Later, he told re­porters out­side his of­fice that there would be “other fights” over the war and that Demo­cratic lead­ers would “do the best we can in con­fer­ence” to ne­go­ti­ate a spend­ing bill with anti-war lan­guage.

The stand­off be­tween the Demo­crat-led Congress and the White House over war funds has strained both par­ties, prompt­ing Democrats to drop troop-with­drawal timeta­bles and Repub­li­cans to con­cede to bench­marks to mea­sure progress in Iraq.

“I do not think the right way to leave is with a fixed dead­line,” said Sen. Kent Con­rad, North Dakota Demo­crat and chair­man of the Bud­get Com­mit­tee who voted against the war au­tho­riza­tion in 2002 and against the Reid amend­ment on May 16.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions over about $100 bil­lion to fund the war un­til the end of the fis­cal year will con­tinue in a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee with the House, which two weeks ago passed a bill that would ra­tion war funds two months at a time and set up a pos­si­ble Au­gust troop with­drawal.

Mr. Bush says he will veto the House mea­sure, as he did May 1 to a $142 bil­lion bill Congress passed with a timetable to pull out troops as soon as July and no later than Oc­to­ber.

Stephen Di­nan con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle, which is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid was un­able to rally his fel­low Democrats be­hind an amend­ment that would have set a date to cut off war fund­ing.

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