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House Democrats Push Iraq Troop Withdrawal

March 8, 2007 at 5:15 PM EST
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: The yeas and nays are ordered.

KWAME HOLMAN: House Democrats stood nearly unanimous last month in voting to oppose the president’s plan to send an additional 22,000 troops to Iraq.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: … 146, the nays are 182.

KWAME HOLMAN: But that vote was on a nonbinding resolution with no force of law.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

KWAME HOLMAN: Now, deep divisions have emerged among House Democrats over the president’s pending request for $100 billion in emergency funding to continue war operations.

This morning, Barbara Lee of California, representing a solid group of progressive Democrats in the House, said she would introduce an amendment to the emergency bill that would: restrict spending the money in Iraq to protection of the troops and Defense Department contractors; and require all U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), California: We want to make sure the American people know that this war must end, that we stand with them, and we’re leading the charge here in the House of Representatives to do just that.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, the progressives’ plan is at odds with the Democratic leadership’s plan, announced shortly after by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That plan would set hard deadlines for a series of Iraq benchmarks, which the president laid out two weeks ago.

For instance, by July 1, 2007, the president must certify to Congress that the Iraqi government is making progress on providing its own security, allocating oil revenues, and creating a fair system for amending its Constitution.

By October 1st of this year, President Bush must certify those benchmarks have been met. If the president cannot meet either certification date, troop withdrawal would begin immediately and have to be completed within 180 days.

And regardless of the benchmarks, troop withdrawal would begin no later than March 1, 2008, to be completed within six months.

Speaker Pelosi said she believes it’s a plan almost all House Democrats can agree on.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: We are a caucus, and we will come together and find our common ground. And I believe, in the end, we will be unified on it. Many members of the “out of Iraq” caucus have committed to this. They understand the wisdom of it. They see that there are dates certain here, for the first time in the Congress, for the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: Once the Democrats had had their say, Minority Leader John Boehner emerged and said members of his party wouldn’t support either plan.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: Republicans are not going to vote to tie the hands of our generals and our troops on the ground, slowly bleed the resources away from them. And we are not going to vote for failure in Iraq, which is exactly what their plan does.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the Iraq proposal next week.

A nine-month difference

Rep. Jan Schakowsky
D-Ill.
We're reflecting an impatience now of the American people to get out of Iraq. ... Everybody wants to make sure that we do it in a way that protects our troops, something that the Bush administration from day one has actually failed to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more, we are joined now by two House Democrats. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is the House majority whip. And Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, she's a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Thank you both for being with us.

Representative Schakowsky, to you first. Both of you want the troops out. As I understand it, there's just a nine-month difference that we're talking about here. You and other progressives are talking about December 31st of this year; the leadership is talking about August 31st. Do nine months make that much difference?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), Illinois: Well, that is the good news, Judy, about the discussion in the Democratic caucus right now. It really is just a question of when and not if we're going to get out of Iraq.

And so, at this point, we're still in discussions about some of the details, but it is very important to end this war and, at the same time, to keep our troops safe. There's full agreement on that, but we're still in discussions over the details.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Representative Clyburn, again, you're the majority whip. Is this a matter of nine months one way or another? Is that what it's come down to?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), South Carolina: Pretty much, that's what it is. And I might add that Jan Schakowsky is the chief deputy whip, and so she's a part of the leadership, as well.

So this is not a question of the leadership being off in one direction; this is a question of having a very diverse caucus really reflect pretty much what the American people are all about.

We've got 42 African-Americans in our caucus; we've got 21 Hispanic-Americans in our caucus; we have Asian-Pacific Islanders; we have around 43 what we call Blue Dogs, very conservative Democrats in our caucus. And so what we're trying to do is find common ground.

When you have seven distinct caucuses within one caucus -- and that's what we have -- it means that there's a lot of discussion, a lot of reflection. And hopefully, by next week this time, we will have found that common ground.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if there's not that much difference, Representative Schakowsky, why not just go along with what the leadership is saying?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, because we think, actually, that our position is reflective of where the American people are at, that it's not only the November elections that show that, but a recent survey of the 50 most competitive districts in the country show that the independents, the Democrats, and even 45 percent of the Republicans want a swift redeployment of the troops out of Iraq.

So we think we're reflecting an impatience now of the American people to get out of Iraq. And clearly they want, we want, everybody wants to make sure that we do it in a way that protects our troops, something that the Bush administration from day one has actually failed to do, including our homecoming veterans. But we think sooner is better.

A 'diverse caucus'

Rep. James Clyburn
Democratic Majority Whip
It's always an issue of how far to go, how much to put in, and what kind of timetables to put in place, what the benchmarks ought to be. And that's a challenge for us, and that's what diversity is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Clyburn, why is it taking so long for the Democrats to come together?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Well, because we're such a diverse caucus, no question about that. And there are a lot of other things in this legislation, in addition to just the Iraqi business.

We are dealing with Katrina, that this administration has failed to deal with. We're dealing with disaster insurance. And we're dealing with our veterans.

We have seen in recent days that our veterans, and many of those still in uniform, are returning to Walter Reed and other facilities across the country that are facing deplorable conditions. We are fixing those things in this legislation, as well.

And so it's always an issue of how far to go, how much to put in, and what kind of timetables to put in place, what the benchmarks ought to be. And that's a challenge for us, and that's what diversity is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of those benchmarks, let me ask you about that, because part of the leadership plan, as I understand it, calls for asking the president to certify that these benchmarks have been met. What exactly does that mean?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: That means that the benchmarks are there and he, along with the generals, should certify to the Congress that these benchmarks are being met.

He's said to us what al-Maliki has agreed to, and he's said the benchmarks are there. The president has said more than once that he is all for getting the surge behind us and then moving to some of the time lines that are in the Iraq Study Group report.

If you remember, the time lines you see in the legislation that the leadership is proposing, the time lines are there already in the Iraqi Study Group report that the president is now saying he will move forward to, once he determines whether or not the surge is or is not successful.

The progressives' position

Rep. Jan Schakowsky
D-Ill.
He [President Bush] has made a complete mess of it. He has blown it. And now we feel that it is time for us to get out, not to give waivers and benchmarks ... but to say, "It is time now."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I'll come back to you again, Representative Schakowsky. If that's the case, why don't you and other progressives go along with that?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, here's our concern. You know, four-and-a-half-years ago, the president asked the Congress to give war a chance. Neither Congressman Clyburn or myself voted for that war, but we have given war a chance. War did not work.

He has made a complete mess of it. He has blown it. And now we feel that it is time for us to get out, not to give waivers and benchmarks -- although, you know, we're still in these discussions, but to say, "It is time now."

I had a woman in my office just now, before I came here, Judy, whose son was in Iraq and has now such serious post-traumatic stress disorder he's tried to commit suicide three times. Do you know that he is being called back?

So we agree with the pieces of the legislation that say that the troops cannot be redeployed after a particular length of time, that we have to take care of our troops when we come home. But this impatience that the American people are expressing is also felt in the Progressive Caucus that we need to do it now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, very quickly, Representative Schakowsky, are you prepared to go along with the leadership plan if there aren't enough votes for the progressive plan?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, we haven't even seen the language yet. It hasn't come out of the Appropriations Committee, so we're still looking at it.

Possibility of a presidential veto

Rep. James Clyburn
Democratic Majority Whip
We have responsibilities as members of Congress. We run every two years. We go home almost every weekend, and we are reflecting what we hear when we go to our congressional districts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Representative Clyburn, you know that the White House is saying the president is going to -- one of his top advisers is saying he's going to veto this.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Yes, I've heard that, but that's within his power to do. He has responsibilities, as commander-in-chief and as president of the United States.

We have responsibilities as members of Congress. We run every two years. We go home almost every weekend, and we are reflecting what we hear when we go to our congressional districts. And we have a responsibility, as members of Congress, to reflect the will of the American people.

And as Jan Schakowsky just said, the American people, almost, what, two to one, they're against this war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Having said that, the Democrats, your party, has not been able to come together in this many weeks since the beginning of the year on an approach.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: That's absolutely correct, but we are getting there. We are much closer today than we were last week, and I think we'll get there maybe next week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you confident of that?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: I feel very confident that we're going to find common ground. There may be some language -- Jan is right, we have not come up with language.

I thought we were straight on some language around noon today. I found out around 3:00 this afternoon that there's still some tweaking that's got to be done.

And so that's why diversity is so important. So much of what we're doing now, if we had done this before, I think, that we'd be in much better shape today. And so we're trying to make up for that which was not done prior to going in, in the first place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say, Representative Schakowsky? We heard today the minority leader of the House, John Boehner, say that what you're doing, basically, is establishing and telegraphing to the enemy a timetable that will result in the failure of the U.S. military in Iraq.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: I think that the American people now understand this war in Iraq has been a failure. Whether you even agreed whether we should have gone in or not, the conduct of this war has been a complete failure.

General Petraeus said today that it has to be through the political arena and not through the military conflict in order to resolve the situation. This is not our failure; this is a failure of the Bush administration to be able to conduct this war and, in my view, for having gone into an unnecessary war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Representative Jan Schakowsky and the majority whip, Representative Jim Clyburn, thank you both.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Thank you.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.