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President Bush Welcomes War Funding Bill

May 25, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: House Democratic leaders said today their failure to keep a troop withdrawal timeline in the war funding bill would not stop them from relentlessly pressuring President Bush to bring the war to a close. The party’s caucus chair, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, said Democrats expect the result to be a dramatic change of course by early fall.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: … September will be the time of truth. This summer will be very important here in Washington, as the Republicans will be consistently asked to take a vote on bringing an end to the current course in Iraq…

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: I think it’s just saying the obvious that the Iraq war is not popular.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, made it clear he, too, sees a course correction in September. That’s the same month Army General David Petraeus is expected to brief the president on the progress of his troop surge plan. McConnell implied today the president may be forced to change current policy either way.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it. In other words, I think he, himself, has certainly indicated he’s not happy with where we are.

KWAME HOLMAN: In passing the $120 billion war funding bill last night, an overwhelming majority of the Senate agreed the Iraqi government must meet certain benchmarks or risk future U.S. involvement. The legislation requires President Bush to report to Congress in mid-July as to whether the Iraqis are making progress in disarming militias, amending the country’s constitution, and dividing oil revenue among the country’s ethnic and sectarian groups.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), Washington: I am not satisfied with the Iraq language in this bill.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many Democrats were unhappy the bill did not call for a mandatory drawdown of U.S. troops, but acknowledged that funding the forces took precedence. Majority Whip Dick Durbin…

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: I will not take my feelings out on the troops that are in the field. I will continue to provide the resources they need to be trained and equipped and rested and ready, to go into battle and to come home safely.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, almost all of whom voted for the bill, argued Democrats’ efforts to put stronger language into the legislation had wasted several months and actually jeopardized the troops on the ground.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: I’m glad that this long and unfortunate, really, political process has apparently come to an end so that we can now provide the funding for our troops that has been needed for some time. And the failure to do so has created uncertainty, ambiguity, has, I believe, undermined our policies in Iraq in a number of different ways.

KWAME HOLMAN: Of the 14 votes against the bill in the Senate, three were Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination, Senators Clinton, Obama and Dodd.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), Chair, Committee on Appropriations: I hate this agreement.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats in the House were far more split on the bill. The anti-war members who promised their constituents to end the conflict were unwilling to vote for a package without mandatory withdrawal timelines.

California’s Barbara Lee was one of 140 Democratic no votes.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), California: The president has dug us deep in a hole in Iraq, and it boggles my mind — boggles my mind — that Congress wants to give him another blank check to buy more shovels.

KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, herself a harsh critic of the war, also voted no, but her deputy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, joined 86 Democrats and a majority of Republicans in passing the bill.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: Today, with this amendment, which includes 18 strong new benchmarks on political security, and economic progress, and other reporting requirements, I believe this Congress has moved the ball forward and begun to hold the administration accountable. Is it as far as we’re going to go? It is not. Should we go further? We must.

KWAME HOLMAN: Minority Leader John Boehner became emotional as he pleaded with members to support what he said may be a prolonged fight against the terrorists within Iraq.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: When are we going to stand up and take them on? When are we going to defeat them? Ladies and gentleman, let me tell you, if we don’t do it now, and if we don’t have the courage to defeat this enemy, we will long, long regret it.

KWAME HOLMAN: The bill, expected to be signed by the president this evening, also contains $17 billion in domestic spending, including a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage. Democrats attached it to the war spending bill to ensure its passage.

The war funding bill and the debate

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think the debate is there. I think Republicans now have made it pretty clear that September becomes the crucial moment for them.

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, so, after it's all been said and done, what was accomplished by the debate and now the vote on this war funding bill?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think first of all, Jim, I think anybody who pretends to be surprised at the outcome, frankly, does not understand the United States' political system. I mean, we don't have a parliamentary system. If we had a parliamentary system, the Bush administration would have fallen last November, because there was a vote of no confidence in that election, both in Iraq and in the president.

But we have a presidential system. He's elected for a term. The Democrats had a majority. They did not have enough votes to overturn. Without any change in the administration's policy, the president was going to prevail in a showdown over funding troops.

But I think the debate is there. I think Republicans now have made it pretty clear that September becomes the crucial moment for them. They're not going to go much further in continuing this unanimous, loyal support to the president and to his policy in Iraq. And I think that's where we are. And September reality becomes big casino.

JIM LEHRER: Mitch McConnell said handwriting is on the wall. How do you interpret that, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, I guess he's right, and September is the crucial date. Listen, what's happened this week is the Democrats are in control, and with power comes responsibility.

They didn't have -- as Mark says, the Constitution wasn't organized for them to be able withdraw quickly because of the power the president has, but neither is the country. The country wants to get out of Iraq, but they don't want to get out precipitously. They want a managed withdrawal. The majority just isn't there.

So the majority in the Congress had to accede to those two realities. And so they're facing tremendous heat on the left for the stand Pelosi has taken, just as, by the way, the Republicans in the House and Senate are now facing tremendous heat on the right for immigration. And what you're seeing this week is this ferocious uproar on these two separate issues against the people who are actually running the Congress. And I think, in both cases, the people who are actually in power are behaving reasonably responsibly.

MARK SHIELDS: Could I just pick on one point David makes? I think it's a good point, and that is that -- the New York Times-CBS poll yesterday showed three out of four Americans believe the war is going badly. One out of two believe it's going very badly. Now, three out of five say we never should have gone there.

Yet when they asked, "Should we pull out right now?" One out of eight says, yes, cut off funding. So, I mean, what you're really talking about is, you know, a very small percentage of people who are quite vocal, who are, I'm sure, sincere, but they are not anywhere near a plurality, let alone a majority.

JIM LEHRER: A lot of people said, including the two of you, many times over the last several months, got to have a real debate on Iraq. We've got to have a real debate on Iraq. We haven't had a debate on Iraq. Have we had one now?

DAVID BROOKS: I think we've had a debate all along.

JIM LEHRER: All along?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think we've had -- I think before the war we had a big debate about Iraq. I recall reading tons of speeches, everybody talking about Iraq. And now the question is, do people have a plan forward? Do people have a postwar, post-surge plan?

And there we don't -- we actually haven't had a debate about that, because so far there's really one or two plans floating out there. Most people just think we can somehow end the war by getting out. We can't end the war by getting out. We'll end maybe our participation in the war, but the war will go on.

JIM LEHRER: But you agree, do you not, Mark, that September has now become the benchmark?

MARK SHIELDS: September has.

JIM LEHRER: I don't think it is because -- wrong word.

MARK SHIELDS: No, benchmark is not...

JIM LEHRER: Calendar point.

MARK SHIELDS: It's the defining point.

JIM LEHRER: Defining point.

MARK SHIELDS: It really is. And that's when the full appropriation comes up.

One place I would disagree with David is, we did not have a debate before this war. I contrast it with the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, when we had a very serious, thoughtful debate, where members sat. The Democrats were craven going to the war in Iraq this time. They were scared of being accused of being soft on terrorism, with rare exceptions.

And the Republicans were mindless in their support. I mean, they really were unquestioning. We never got to a question about, what happens when, what happens then, what happens after, in that debate. And, certainly, we never debated 300,000 troops, which now is the answer that many administration has for the solution.

The confrontation with Iran

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The horse is out of the barn. I mean, they've learned how to enrich uranium.

JIM LEHRER: Now, speaking of the question, what happens when, and where, and what, we now have Iran now in a confrontation with the United States. Does the fact that we have this situation in Iraq mean that any kind of action by the United States, similar to what we did in Iraq, is completely off the table because of what we did in Iraq?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Convoluted question, my apologies.

DAVID BROOKS: I understand. But we're not going to go to war in Iraq...

JIM LEHRER: No matter what?

DAVID BROOKS: In Iran. You know, I hear this stuff that Bush is planning another war in Iran. Cheney has got the plans on his desk. Forget about it. The people in the administration have no interest, and we have no capability to do so.

So what's happened to American foreign policy generally, by the way, in the past year, it's shifted 180 degrees. And the next president, Democrat or Republican, their foreign policy will look very much like the one Condi Rice is enacting today, and that includes an Iran stepping up the pressure on sanctions.

And it's having some effect, not so much the sanctions, which are weak, but people are afraid to invest in Iran. And that is putting some bite on the Iranians. It hasn't caused them to cut their nuclear program, but the hope is that you can ratchet up that pressure.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about Iran and what we could do?

MARK SHIELDS: The horse is out of the barn. I mean, they've learned how to enrich uranium. And ElBaradei -- I mean, it has to be particularly painful for the administration, the man who was absolutely right about Saddam Hussein not reinvigorating or restoring any nuclear program in 2003, the administration didn't want to hear it, went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, he now says, I mean, that they have the 1,400 centrifuges, the stuff that they found.

I mean, there's no way -- we don't have any options. It's an American problem in the world, but there's not an American solution. And we can talk about censures and all sorts of provisions and everything else, but China and Russia are not...

JIM LEHRER: They're going to have to take care of this one?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, they're paying lip service to the ones that were passed in March.

JIM LEHRER: You agree, though, that there's no American solution to this?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I actually think they do.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, you do?

DAVID BROOKS: You create a series of costs and benefits. And they have the centrifuges, but this is the beginning of a long process. And these are delicate machines, like my garage door opener or something. And it will just take a long time to which you can actually pressure them.

Majority supports immigration bill

David Brooks
The New York Times
We've had bad immigration bills. They're right to be cautious.

JIM LEHRER: Mark mentioned immigration, David. There's a new poll out. Three-quarters of the people polled said, hey, they support this compromise reform bill. If Congress is all over the place and having gone like this, what's going on? Why do they do that?

DAVID BROOKS: The silent majority. I ran into a Republican senator yesterday who told me that the mail coming into that office was, I think, she said 1,300 to 35 in a day...

MARK SHIELDS: Against?

DAVID BROOKS: ... against.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, against?

DAVID BROOKS: Against, so the people against are furious, organized and knowledgeable. The people for are ambivalent, not that activist. And so...

JIM LEHRER: But there's a majority.

DAVID BROOKS: But, right, but what the members are hearing, both Republicans and Democrats, is this ferocious wall of opposition. They're not hearing anything else. And so they can read the poll results in the paper, but they're going to respond next week when they go home.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: A militant minority will always, in a legislative setting, prevail over an undisciplined or...

JIM LEHRER: Particularly in the world of e-mail now.

MARK SHIELDS: In the world of e-mail. And there's a lot of moving parts in this, Jim. I mean, you know, we talked last week about it being bipartisan, but, you know, you've got labor, who are upset about depressing wages with the guest workers, organized labor, who might be expected to be part of the Democratic coalition here in supporting it.

You've got liberals, including the Latino caucus, who are upset about the part that David likes so much, the point system for coming in, and without the emphasis upon family reunification. They feel that that's very important to any immigrant group or any group to have family support, parents, grandparents, and a family unit that brings stability.

You've got business that thinks it's got always onerous restrictions and enforcement it has to do, and it's not getting enough workers at this point. So, I mean, you've really got a lot of people who are not -- and then you've got the Republican crazies, who amnesty has become for them 54-40 or fight. I mean, this is Fort Sumter. They use the word "amnesty," and it's like a swear.

DAVID BROOKS: I think it doesn't make sense. I don't think they're crazies. I mean, we've had bad immigration bills. They're right to be cautious. You know, we too early scorn the opposition, because they have legitimate points.

Nonetheless, despite all the pressures that Mark has been talking about, which are real, there are people who are -- the majority, the Democrats and Republicans in this coalition, are hanging tough. There have been a series of amendments trying to destroy it, and the majority has hung tough on each one of them.

Thoughts on lobbying reform

David Brooks
The New York Times
Somehow the lobbyists or the people who want to give money will get around it, and we'll have to pass another law.

JIM LEHRER: And what's bringing them together, just the fact that they think it's a serious problem?

DAVID BROOKS: They think it's a good bill. They think they get something out of it, the situation will be improved. There is no political advantage. The opponents hope that, as the senators go home next week and spend a week in their districts or in their states, they're just going to get slaughtered, and they'll come back and change their mind, but so far they haven't.

MARK SHIELDS: One vote yesterday, the guest-worker program to terminate after five years, an amendment offered by Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, and Barbara Boxer of California, one vote it survived by, and that was only when Ted Kennedy, the sponsor, went over and spoke to Senator Akaka of Hawaii and got him to change his vote. So the majority that's prevailing is paper thin.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of votes, lobby reform passed. Big reform? Major thing happen here?

DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn't say a major thing, but a good thing. I think, in general, the more transparency you can get, but you're really chasing a system. We passed a law. They get around it, and they get around it now with bundling, putting all these contributions together, so we passed another law to address that problem. Somehow the lobbyists or the people who want to give money will get around it, and we'll have to pass another law.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: Good thing.

JIM LEHRER: Good thing to do?

MARK SHIELDS: Anything that makes it more transparent. Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant. And to bring that out in the open, you're going to find out who's bringing in all that money to the members or the candidates. And they're going to be a lot more sheepish.

What really was the test, Jim, the reluctance to support it when it was in conference in the respective caucuses of the two parties. Once it got to the floor, they were scared stiff to vote against it, and Chris Van Hollen and Marty Meehan deserve a lot of credit for it.