Senate Signals Support for Iraq Timeline
Senate Signals Support for Iraq Timeline
Mar 27, 5:44 PM (ET)
By DAVID ESPO
WASHINGTON (AP) - Defying a veto threat, the
Democratic-controlled Senate narrowly signaled support
Tuesday for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from
Iraq by next March.
Republican attempts to scuttle the non-binding
timeline failed on a vote of 50-48, largely along
party lines. The roll call marked the Senate's most
forceful challenge to date of the administration's
handling of a war that has claimed the lives of more
than 3,200 U.S. troops.
Three months after Democrats took power in Congress,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the moment was
at hand to "send a message to President Bush that the
time has come to find a new way forward in this
But Republicans - and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an
independent Democrat - argued otherwise.
John McCain, R-Ariz., a presidential hopeful, said
that "we are starting to turn things around" in the
Iraq war" and that a timeline for withdrawal would
embolden the terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere.
The effect of the timeline would be to "snatch defeat
from the jaws of progress in Iraq," agreed Lieberman,
who won a new term last fall in a three-way race after
losing the Democratic nomination to an anti-war
Bush had previously said he would veto any bill
containing the timeline, and the White House freshened
the threat a few hours before the vote on Tuesday.
"This and other provisions would place freedom and
democracy in Iraq at grave risk, embolden our enemies
and undercut the administration's plan to develop the
Iraqi economy," it said in a statement.
Similar legislation drew only 48 votes in the Senate
earlier this month, but Democratic leaders made a
change that persuaded Nebraska's Democratic Sen. Ben
Nelson to swing behind the measure.
Additionally, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a vocal
critic of the war, sided with the Democrats, assuring
them of the majority they needed to turn back a
challenge led by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
The debate came on legislation that provides $122
billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as
well as domestic priorities such relief to hurricane
victims and payments to farmers.
Separately, supporters of an increase in the minimum
wage readied an effort to attach the measure to the
spending bill, along with companion tax cuts that
Republicans have demanded. The House and Senate have
passed different versions of the bill but have yet to
reach a compromise.
The House has already passed legislation requiring
troops to be withdrawn by Sept. 1, 2008. The Senate
vote assured that the Democratic-controlled Congress
would send Bush legislation later this spring that
calls for a change in war policy. A veto is a
certainty, presuming the president follows through.
That would put the onus back on the Democrats, who
would have to decide how long they wanted to extend
the test of wills in the face of what are likely to be
increasingly urgent statements from the administration
that the money is needed for troops in the war zone.
"Frankly, I think we'd like to reach out to the
president ... and say, 'Mr. President, this is not a
unilateral government. It is a separation of powers,
and the Congress of the United States is assuming
review,'" House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of
Maryland told reporters as the Senate debated the war.
Reid also referred to the president at a news
conference. "I would hope that he would be willing to
work with us in coming up with some language that both
(houses of Congress) could accept. At this stage, he
has been very non-negotiable. So we'll see what
happens," he said.
As drafted, the legislation called for troop
withdrawal to begin within 120 days, with a
non-binding goal that calls for the combat troops to
be gone within a year.
The measure also includes a series of suggested goals
for the Iraqi government to meet to provide for its
own security, enhance democracy and distribute its oil
wealth fairly - provisions designed to attract support
from Nelson and Pryor.
The vote was a critical test for Reid and the new
Democratic majority in the Senate nearly three months
after they took power. Despite several attempts, they
had yet to win approval for any legislation
challenging Bush's policies in a war that has claimed
the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops and cost in
excess of $300 billion.
Republicans prevented debate over the winter on
non-binding measures critical of Bush's decision to
deploy an additional 21,500 troops. That led to the
50-48 vote derailing a bill that called for a troop
withdrawal to begin within 120 days but set only a
non-binding target of March 31, 2008, for the
departure of the final combat forces.
Some Democrats said they would support the non-binding
timetable even though they wanted more. "I want a
deadline not only for commencing the withdrawal of our
forces but also completing it rather than a target
date," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"This provision represents a 90-degree change of
course from the president's policy of escalation in
the middle of a civil war," he said, "I'm confident
once the withdrawal of our troops begins, there will
be no turning back."
Republicans disagreed, strongly. "Wars cannot be run
from these hallowed and comfortable and sanctified
chambers 10,000 miles away from the war zone," said
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. "How about allowing the officers,
the men and the commanders in the field who are
engaged daily, risking their lives to bring peace and
security to Iraq, determine when and how we can best
turn over to the Iraqi security forces the critical
job, the critical job of assuring security."