April 8: Democrats back away from Iraq troops withdrawal demand
For the second straight weekend, top Senate Democrats shrunk further away from core principles they had set out in the Iraq war debate, signaling Sunday that they were prepared to drop a timetable mandating the withdrawal of U.S. troops, should President Bush fulfill his vow to veto current war funding legislation.
Last Sunday, senior Democrats said that they would not hold back funding for the war if the president vetoed a bill including an Iraq withdrawal timetable. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, reiterated that point on ABC's "This Week." He said, "We're not going to vote to cut funding, period."
Sen. Carl Levin (AP Photo/ABC News, Lauren Victoria Burke)After a veto, he said, "there's a number of options. Either we can keep the benchmarks part of the bill without saying that the troops must begin to come back." And if that doesn't work, "what we will leave will be benchmarks, for instance, which would require the president to certify to the American people if the Iraqis are meeting the benchmarks for political settlement, which they, the Iraqi leaders, have set for themselves."
Democrats also suggested their strategy would be to portray Bush as the one who is denying funds to the troops.
"Should he veto this bill, which means he will be vetoing the money for the troops, we will try to come up with a way, ... trying to compromise with the White House, that both supports the troops and yet changes the strategy in Iraq, which we feel is misguided," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on "Fox News Sunday."
"And by the way, 70 percent of the American people feel it's misguided. If a change in strategy means not supporting the troops, then 70 percent of the American people don't support the troops."
The House and Senate have both passed $100 billion spending bills to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afgahnistan. The House bill would require U.S. combat troops to leave by Sept. 1, 2008, while the Senate bill asks that troops begin to leave in 120 days, a process to be completed by March 31, 2008. House and Senate negotiators are to work on a compromise bill to send to the president when the House comes back from recess in a week.
Some Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), have vowed to pursue legislation that would cut off funds for combat operations on March 31, if Bush continues to keep a large troop presence there. That would go much further than the bills currently being considered, which Democrats have emphasized would not cut funding.
Levin suggested that the more far-reaching bill, co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) would not go anywhere if it contains measures to cut funding. "Harry Reid acknowledged that that's not going to happen. He has a personal position, which he said was not the caucus position. He was very clear when he joined a bill which would cut off funding under certain circumstances."
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Republican Conference, said the Congress should send the president a war spending bill without conditions. "The point here is that when you send the president a bill that has a big poison pill in it like that ... he's going to veto it. This is a very risky strategy," Kyl said on ABC's "This Week." "Every day of delay is a day when we're not sending troops the body armor they need, the humvees that they need and all of the other things that they need.