House Approves Timetable for Iraq Withdrawal
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The House sets a timetable.
“NewsHour” congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: All week long, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she needed only 218 votes for the House to approve restrictions on the president’s conduct of the Iraq war. Today, in the closest of votes, she got 218.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: I stand here with great pride on this historic day in the Congress of the United States. Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: But securing passage of the $124 billion emergency spending bill, which ties war funding to the withdrawal of U.S. troops, took substantial arm-twisting, much of it by Pelosi herself. She personally lobbied the four leaders of the Democrats’ anti-war faction to convince some of their colleagues to support her. Ten agreed.
One was freshman Yvette Clarke of New York.
REP. YVETTE CLARKE (D), New York: It was a very emotional vote for me. I mean, I took a lot of — took a lot of soul-searching. I prayed. I kind of just really dug in deep on this vote.
You know, I come from a district in Brooklyn where it’s the epicenter of the anti-war movement. And, again, just thinking about the number of funerals I have attended, dealing with the families in the community that is grieving over this loss, I want to see our troops come home. I want to see them come home yesterday.
And, so, this vote, again, I had to really make sure that what I was doing was moving us to that end. And I do believe this is the beginning of the end of the Iraq war.
KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett said he was one of the final members to go from undecided to yes.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), Texas: In 13 years, I don’t know of a more difficult vote for me personally. I’m very dissatisfied with the bill that passed. But, in the — after the debate, it was clear that it was a vote between a modest step to end the war, and joining the Republicans for endless war.
Democrats add spending to bill
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, however, argued that Democrats had bought additional votes by adding $24 billion in spending unrelated to the Iraq war. Several cited today's Washington Post editorial which lambasted Democrats for proposing $75 million for peanut storage in Georgia, $25 million for California spinach farmers, and $120 million for shrimpers.
REP. SAM JOHNSON (R), Texas: You know, what does throwing money at Bubba Gump, Popeye the sailor man and Mr. Peanut have to do with winning a war? Nothing.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, who wrote the bill, argued vehemently that the fish and agriculture industries legitimately need relief, and that Republicans were missing the overall point.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D-WI), House Appropriations Committee Chairman: What matters in the end is not what the specific language is. What matters is whether or not we produce a product today that puts pressure on this administration and sends a message to Iraq, to the Iraqi politicians, that we're going to end the permanent, long-term, dead-end baby-sitting service. That's what we're trying to do.
And, if The Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that's just too bad. But we're in the arena. They're not. And this is the best we can do, given the tools we have. And I make absolutely no apology for it.
Republicans oppose the bill
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republicans countered, warning that pressuring the administration and, by extension, the military, into a timetable for troop withdrawal by September 2008 would signal retreat to the enemy, and that forcing the Iraqi government to meet political and security benchmarks would hinder military leaders' ability to make essential battlefield decisions.
Louisiana Republican Jim McCrery reminded Democrats that many of them voted for this war and should not put limits on it now.
REP. JIM MCCRERY (R), Louisiana: Some of us, it seems, have changed our minds and wish we hadn't cast that vote. But the fact is, we did cast that vote. We voted in the majority to start this war. I believe, based on my reading of history, my studies of past engagements -- military engagements -- it would be a tremendous mistake for the Congress of the United States to attempt to micromanage this war and bring it to a conclusion through artificially constraining decisions on the battlefield.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Majority Leader Steny Hoyer claimed this was a new Iraq resolution, and that a vote for the war in 2002 was not a vote for civil war in 2007.
REP. STENY HOYER: None of us who voted for the original authorization voted to put our troops in the middle of a civil war -- not one of us. The Iraq government has failed to meet political goals. It is our responsibility to ask them do so, because we want to support our troops.
MAN: This is a 15-minute vote.
Anti-war protestors removed
KWAME HOLMAN: When the vote finally was called for, anti-war protesters made one last plea from the gallery above.
MAN: The sergeant at arms will remove those persons responsible for the disturbance and restore order to the gallery.
MAN: Nancy Pelosi, you own this war now!
KWAME HOLMAN: And, once they had been removed, the vote went on. Democrats reacted when they realized victory was at hand.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KWAME HOLMAN: They had won, despite 14 defections and virtually unanimous Republican dissent.
Shortly afterward, President Bush, flanked by military families, repeated his pledge to veto the bill, noting the narrow margin of passage shows there aren't enough votes in the House to override him.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Because the vote in the House was so close, it is clear that my veto would be sustained.
Today's action in the House does only one thing: It delays the delivery of vital resources for our troops.
KWAME HOLMAN: If the bill is to make it to the president's desk, it first must pass the Senate, which takes up its own version of the legislation next week.