House Democratic Leaders Mum on Afghanistan

Posted November 14, 2009 at 2:07pm

Republicans have no problem voicing their frustration with President Barack Obama for taking more time to lay out his Afghanistan war strategy, but House Democratic leaders continue to stay silent on the issue — and whether they could support sending tens of thousands more troops overseas.

Obama is expected to announce his war plan sometime after Thursday, when he returns from a trip to Asia. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last week that Obama is mulling four different options on troop levels but hasn’t decided which he will choose.

Despite growing pressure from Republicans to increase troops by whatever level is requested by commanders in the field, top Democrats seem content to let Obama decide — and to let their Caucus avoid a messy troops debate in the meantime.

“We are Democrats. We support Obama, and we are waiting for his plan,— said one senior House Democratic aide. “Republicans are just whacking him because that’s all they do. They are naysayers.—

But the longer they await Obama’s proposal, the more apparent it seems that Democratic leaders are divided on how to proceed on the matter.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has largely dodged the issue since September, when she signaled a potential showdown with the White House by saying there is “not a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the country or in the Congress.—

By contrast, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said he thinks Democrats support Obama’s efforts to fight terrorism in the region. During a memorial service last week in honor of fallen soldiers, Hoyer said Veterans Day “is, in fact, the recommitment of ourselves to this [war] effort,” according to a local news outlet, Southern Maryland Newspapers.

Other key Democrats have also signaled deep differences. While Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) has balked over how to pay for more troops and a war without clear goals, Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) has urged more resolve and the backing of commanders.

Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus is scrambling to find a unified position on the matter. Most progressives don’t support an abrupt troop withdrawal but also don’t endorse deploying tens of thousands more troops, according to a Democratic aide.

“Similar to the health care debate, there is diversity of perspective among progressives, but there is unity in effort,— said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the CPC Afghanistan Taskforce.

Honda said the caucus will be sending a letter to Obama this week that outlines its proposed policies for next steps in Afghanistan. CPC Members have largely backed policies in three bills filed by fellow liberal lawmakers: Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) proposal to create redeployment timelines and measurements for success, Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) proposal to prohibit funds for troop surges and Reps. Raúl Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) and Honda’s proposal to invest 80 percent of funds on infrastructure and economic development and 20 percent on security.