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House Democrats Seek to Avoid Iraq Stance Vote

House Democratic leaders this week will try to block any effort by members to adopt an official Democratic Caucus position on the Iraq war, recognizing such a move would highlight internal party differences and invite new political troubles.

Leadership sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) agree that while members are becoming increasingly vocal about the war, a unified position on the subject is still impossible to settle on. Because of that, Pelosi recently asked Menendez to keep this week’s Caucus focused on a discussion of the war and away from a vote on the subject.

“We want to emphasize where we are in agreement, and that agreement is that we want an exit strategy, but people have different timetables for that,” said one Democratic leadership aide, adding that Pelosi doesn’t believe voting on one particular position “is the best thing” for the party.

House Democrats are in general agreement that the war has been mishandled and the president lacks a strategy for how to end the conflict. But Caucus members remain at odds over whether to continue U.S. involvement in Iraq and for how long.

Democrats entered the war on different sides. Some 127 members, including Pelosi, opposed authorizing the conflict, while 81, including Hoyer, supported it.

Wednesday’s Caucus originally was billed as an opportunity for members to discuss the war and to talk about whether to adopt a singular policy and message on the issue. The agenda came on the heels of Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) surprise call for the Iraqi conflict to end and that the troops begin withdrawing from the region.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, Murtha is a defense hawk and an initial supporter of the Iraq war. He also is Pelosi’s closest confidant on military matters.

Pelosi endorsed Murtha’s position last week, and in so doing, said she believed a “majority of House Democrats” are also behind him. But the Minority Leader insisted that she would not lobby other members to take up her position, and does not believe the Caucus should vote to adopt his stance.

“She’s always said that when it comes to matters of war that it is an individual vote of conscience,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

Even so, many liberal Caucus members are growing ever more vocal about the need for an end-game strategy and troop withdrawal from the region.

Wednesday’s Caucus is being held in large part to appease a wing of the party that believes Democrats must rally around a unified position to end the war.

Sources indicated that even though leaders will work to keep a vote off the Caucus’ agenda this week, individual members may still press for balloting on the subject. Those sources said members also may seek support for a future Caucus meeting dedicated to a vote.

“They want a unified party message against the war in Iraq, and they think a vote in the Caucus will demonstrate that,” explained one aide to a liberal Democrat. But, this aide added: “I think they are more concerned or would prefer the party come up with a unified message on Iraq over a vote in the Caucus.”

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