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House liberals will use this week’s debate on the annual defense authorization bill to push an anti-war ideology that has been overshadowed in the ongoing debate over fiscal matters, even if the philosophy is unlikely to prevail.
“We have the opportunity to bring some real attention to Afghanistan,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva said of Democratic amendments calling for an earlier troop withdrawal. “We’re not going to win the vote, but for our Caucus to have a significant vote I think will be very important.”
The Arizona lawmaker explained the sentiment many liberals expressed during a Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday — that a strong showing on the floor, even for a failed vote, could apply pressure to President Barack Obama to reframe his approach to the war in Afghanistan. The administration is scheduled to begin a troop drawdown in July and to complete it by 2014, and some Democrats maintain Obama needs to implement a wholesale withdrawal in the region that military forces have occupied since 2001.
“Our job here is to make our independent judgment,” said Rep. Peter Welch, the sponsor of an amendment to withdraw troops in Afghanistan. “I think to the extent that we can demonstrate Congressional support, particularly if it’s bipartisan, for a policy review, it’ll give the president more political flexibility to make that change.”
The Vermont Democrat also said his amendment, which includes conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) as a lead sponsor, could give Obama political cover to retool his Afghanistan strategy if it wins strong support on the House floor. Welch, a deputy whip, said he was rallying Democratic colleagues and predicted many would support his efforts. But a similar effort by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in March to pass an Afghanistan withdrawal resolution won the support of only 85 Democrats, and it failed 93-321 on the floor.
Despite the grim prospects for such proposals, lawmakers have offered plenty of them, many of which were considered during a lengthy Rules Committee markup on Tuesday. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), along with Welch and others, proposed an amendment limiting funds for counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan, while a bipartisan group of six Members offered an amendment that seeks to limit the definition of “war on terror.”
And unlike the long-running debt limit and budget debates that have been dominated by partisanship, the issue of Afghanistan has drawn together strange bedfellows that Democrats said underscore the importance of their efforts.
“This is bipartisan. If we’re going to be successful on anything, changing our policy in Afghanistan, getting our budget under control, we’ve got to find areas of common ground,” Welch said, noting that “working with Mr. Chaffetz is a way to send that signal that we’re working together.”