Anti-War Liberals Put Afghanistan to Three Votes

Posted July 1, 2010 at 10:14pm

Updated: July 2, 12:30 a.m.

Liberal House lawmakers are pointing to a trio of war funding votes Thursday evening as evidence of growing support for ending U.S military efforts in Afghanistan.

The House soundly rejected an amendment to strip war money from a supplemental spending bill, as well as two proposals to mandate a troop withdrawal. But progressives say the votes underscore what they describe as growing frustration with the potentially open-ended military engagement in Afghanistan.

“This war is lost,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said on the House floor Thursday night. “Bring our troops home. Save our money.”

The supplemental would fund President Barack Obama’s $33 billion request to pay for an escalation of troops in Afghanistan before a drawdown begins in July 2011. The White House threatened earlier in the evening to veto the bill if restrictions are added that “would undermine his ability as commander in chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan.”

Rep. Jim McGovern said the votes gave “people an opportunity to send a signal to the powers that be here in Washington that the concern about this war is growing, it’s intensifying.”

“People are worried,” the Massachusetts Democrat added. “People want to know how this comes to a conclusion. … It’s important that people here in Congress, we start talking about this. I mean, we’re the ones who voted to put these men and women in harm’s way. … Part of the problem is that this war’s sort of moved into the background. People are not talking about it.”

McGovern’s proposal to set a flexible but congressionally mandated timetable for troop withdrawal was rejected, 162-260, while an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to cut off money for combat operations and immediately begin withdrawing troops fell, 100-321. Lee is the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voted for the McGovern amendment, saying she supported its mandates for regular updates to Congress about the war.

“It is critical that Congress has the most up-to-date information as we debate policies that impact our soldiers, their families and our national security,” she said in a statement after the vote Thursday night.

“The amendment would not have limited our military’s efforts to attack Al Qaeda, gather or share intelligence with our allies in the region or change military strategy on the ground during the period of redeployment,” Pelosi added.

Both provisions were more stringent than an amendment that McGovern offered in June 2009 to the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill. That amendment, which was rejected 138-278, would have required the Defense Department to submit a report to Congress outlining an Afghanistan exit strategy.

Both also drew significantly more support than the 65 votes that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) mustered in March for a resolution that would have required the president to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan within 30 days.

An amendment to strip the war money from the bill — which also funds a bevy of domestic items, including $10 billion to stem teacher layoffs — was rejected 25-376 Thursday.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a member of the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, said the public was growing opposed to giving “the Pentagon a blank check” to conduct the war, adding that the amendment votes demonstrated “consistent rising opposition to endless war.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, said caucus members plan to request a meeting with Obama in the near future to discuss their concerns.

Speaking to reporters at her weekly news conference Thursday morning, Pelosi did not directly answer a question about whether she believed Congress should set a timetable for troop withdrawal.