Jury Still Out on Iraq Bill

Waters Whips Against Leaders

Posted March 20, 2007 at 6:48pm

House Democratic leaders claimed progress Tuesday in cobbling together support for the Iraq War spending bill, though they continued to face rebellion as a senior member of the Whip operation openly worked to defeat the measure.

“I’m whipping against the bill now,” acknowledged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a Chief Deputy Majority Whip who also is a co-chairwoman of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

The California lawmaker said last week she would not actively oppose the $124 billion spending bill — which would establish a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than 2008 — even as she herself would not support it, but said she changed her mind when Democratic leaders began actively pushing the measure.

“After [leadership] changed their minds, I changed my mind,” Waters said.

Although a number of House Democrats, including members of the Whip team, had expected their leadership would not actively pressure Members on the spending bill — asserting that the legislation is a “matter of conscience,” similar to the nonbinding resolution condemning the troop increase passed in the House last month — Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has said the spending bill has a wider scope, and is subject to normal procedures.

At a Tuesday press conference following the weekly Democratic Caucus meeting, Clyburn asserted that the Whip team is structured to absorb occasional defections from its ranks — “I took all that into account when I set up the Whip operation,” he said — but said Waters had not informed him that she is actively working against the spending bill.

“I beg to differ that there’s anybody whipping [against] this bill … I think I would know if there was whipping taking place against this bill,” Clyburn said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged Tuesday that Democrats had yet to obtain needed commitments, but asserted the majority would reach that figure before the House vote, which is expected to occur Thursday.

“Do I have 218 people that I know are definite yeses right this minute? The answer to that is no. That’s not a surprise to you or to anybody in this room,” Hoyer said at a Tuesday press conference. “If you are asking me, do I think we will have 218 votes on this bill when we call it up for a vote? The answer to that is yes. … Do I think we will need to delay it? I hope the answer to that is no and believe it is no.”

Clyburn similarly declined to say whether Democrats would reach the needed number of commitments by Thursday, instead referring to the date as “my goal.”

With Republicans expected to oppose the measure with few defections, Democrats cannot afford to lose more than 15 Members and still claim the 218 votes necessary to win passage.

Although Waters said other lawmakers are similarly lobbying against the Democratic spending bill, she declined to identify those Members by name.

While Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip, condemned the Iraq War measure in a passionate speech Monday night on the House floor, he said he will not join Waters in working to actively defeat the bill.

Similarly, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus and co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday that although she will vote against the bill, “I’m not working to change any votes.”

The Californian had estimated last week that as many as 15 of her colleagues would do the same, but said Tuesday that she has ended a vote count of her Democratic colleagues.

“They are going to do what they’re going to do,” she said.

Despite working in direct opposition to her own leadership, Waters is not expected to lose her place on the Whip team, said one Democratic leadership aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But a second Democratic leadership aide, who also asked not to be named, suggested that even if Waters wouldn’t be punished in the short term, her actions would be remembered.

“The Speaker and the leadership team have long memories,” the aide asserted. “This is not an issue that anyone is going to forget at any point in the near future.”

Waters did not discount the possibility that she could face reprisal for her decision, stating: “Whenever you make a decision, you have to take responsibility for your actions.”

Democratic leaders did win endorsements Tuesday from some lawmakers, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who had been widely expected to vote against the spending bill when it comes to the House floor this week.

“I had a heart to heart with myself about what moves the issue forward,” Schakowsky, a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said of her decision. “I would have written a different bill that would have gotten us out sooner. … This is a step on the path.”

The Illinois lawmaker, who announced her decision at the Caucus meeting, said she will issue a letter to her colleagues in both the Out of Iraq Caucus and the Progressive Caucus to explain her position, and said she also will support the bill in her position as a Chief Deputy Majority Whip.

“We can choose to view this as a potential victory or as a defeat for our position,” Schakowsky said. Addressing concerns raised by some Democrats that language dictating the withdrawal may not withstand a judicial challenge, she added: “We will have many opportunities to tighten the language. … There are many more steps in this process where we can fine tune.”

Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a senior member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, confirmed Tuesday that he will also endorse the bill or a similar measure.

“When you get over 200 people, everybody’s got to give a little bit,” Tanner said.

In the meantime, Republican leaders backed a discharge petition Tuesday to bring to the House floor a proposal by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas).

“The Johnson bill will bind the Congress to a firm and permanent funding commitment for all American troops fighting in combat. I am proud to sign this discharge petition with Sam today, and urge my colleagues to do the same,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

But the measure, which had garnered 179 signatures Tuesday according to Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), appears unlikely to succeed without significant Democratic support.

Hoyer said Republicans will be allowed to offer some kind of substitute measure to the supplemental spending bill — raising the possibility that it may be a standard motion to recommit — but said that decision had yet to be made.