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