Liberals Lobbied on Iraq
House leaders leaned heavily on wavering liberals to back the $124 billion war supplemental conference report before a planned vote Wednesday, even as Democrats in both chambers and the White House continued an increasingly personal war of words over the president’s promised veto.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), one of the members of the Out of Iraq Caucus who reluctantly voted for the war supplemental originally, at one point asserted that he would vote against the conference report. “Yes I will,” he said. But at that moment, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) grabbed his arm and brought him into the chamber for an intense conversation to get him to change his mind.
Minutes later, Jackson returned to say that Clyburn “is going to give me some information to make sure that I’m not being misled” and his office subsequently said the Illinois lawmaker, an appropriator, was officially undecided on the bill.
Numerous similar conversations were taking place on the House floor as Democrats deployed their Whip team. Many liberals like Jackson had warned that they would not vote for a bill that did not have a firm timeline for ending the Iraq War, but House negotiators had to settle for a “goal” of withdrawing troops by the end of March 2008. Troops would have to start coming home by Oct. 1.
“We’re making progress,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).
“We’re close enough to almost say we have it,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, who was confident lawmakers would ultimately fall in line. “What else are they going to do? What’s the alternative? We have to pass something to put it on his desk.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said that the key selling point was the need to confront President Bush and pass something. “There’s one key factor that hasn’t changed,” she said. “We know that a no vote is a vote to affirm the president’s inaction. … Do you want to support the president’s inaction?”
Democrats also said they may pick up a few conservative Democrats to offset any losses from liberals but they did not expect to see much change from the initial vote on the Iraq supplemental. Democrats remained focused on uniting their Caucus rather than working to get more Republicans to sign on. Just two House Republicans supported the original bill.
Democrats also continued to talk strategy for what to do if Bush follows through on his repeated veto threats. Murtha has proposed passing a short-term supplemental of a few months to keep the pressure on the president, but he acknowledged Tuesday that House Democratic leaders have not yet signed on to that idea, nor has the Senate.
Murtha said the short-term bill could be longer than the two months he originally proposed because they have to fit it in with the regular fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill and a follow-on supplemental when the short-term bill expires. “It’s a delicate ballet,” he said. “It’s committee time, it’s staff time, it’s floor time. It’s a matter of how much further you can go without holding other things up.”
The administration has criticized Murtha’s proposal, arguing that it would wreak havoc with the military’s ability to plan and prosecute the war. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also spoke out against the idea Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that Democrats did not have a firm plan, saying that they should sit down with the president and work out a compromise.
“When and if a veto occurs, we are going to have to talk about how we move forward,” Hoyer said. “As I said at the White House, we can’t pass a bill over the president’s veto, and the president can’t pass a bill without our support. So we need to talk.”
Hoyer and other Democrats continued to hold out hope, at least publicly, that Bush might have a “road to Damascus experience” and sign the bill.
But that appeared to be largely posturing for the television cameras.
Bush reiterated his veto threat moments earlier Tuesday.
“Yesterday, Democratic leaders announced that they plan to send me a bill that will fund our troops only if we agree to handcuff our generals, add billions of dollars in unrelated spending, and begin to pull out of Iraq by an arbitrary date,” Bush said. “They know I’m going to veto a bill containing these provisions, and they know that my veto will be sustained.”
Bush called the bill a “political statement.”
“Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq. I listened,” Bush said, pointing to his surge strategy.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called his statement “the response of a president whose administration is in disarray” and said that the American people did not vote for an escalation of the war.
“For the first time the president will have to be accountable for the war in Iraq and he doesn’t want to face that reality,” Pelosi said.
The White House also deployed Vice President Cheney to rebut charges from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday that the administration had prosecuted the war with incompetence and dishonesty.
The Senate is expected to clear the bill to the president Thursday, with Republicans vowing not to hold the legislation up to ensure it gets to Bush for a veto as soon as possible.
The votes in the Senate are not expected to change, given that the House largely acceded to the Senate language containing a nonbinding goal for getting most combat troops out of Iraq.
Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.