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Senate Narrowly Signals Support for Troop Withdrawal

March 27, 2007 at 6:10 PM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

KWAME HOLMAN: Congressional debate in recent weeks over continuing funding of the Iraq war has made one point quite clear: The two parties differ sharply on whether a timetable for troop withdrawal should be tied to legislation paying for military operations.

Majority Democrats say it should. And in a deeply partisan debate last week, House Democrats successfully attached timetable language to their Iraq funding bill, prompting a veto threat from the White House.

And this week, Democrats in the Senate, holding only a slight majority, are trying to do the same.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: The language in the bill is something that’s supported by the vast majority of the American people. It’s a very important piece of legislation. This is a civil war. It’s turned into an intractable civil war. The president must change course, and this legislation will allow him to do that.

KWAME HOLMAN: The $122 billion funding bill, most of which is dedicated to Iraq, would require a phased redeployment of U.S. troops within 120 days of enactment and set as an ultimate goal the withdrawal of all forces by March 31st of next year.

Republicans charged Democrats with setting a “date for defeat.” Arizona’s John McCain says the U.S. currently is making significant progress in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: There’s patrols in Sadr City. There are neighborhoods in Baghdad that are quiet. The sheiks in Anbar province are cooperating.

We are making progress, and we can succeed with this new strategy. To hamstring and to announce that we are leaving is one of the most shameful things I’ve ever seen.

Timetable debate

KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran led an effort to kill the timetable provisions in the Democrats' bill. His amendment would strike language that "would tie the hands of the commander-in-chief, thus undermining the position of American Armed Forces."

Republicans hoped to overcome the Democrats' slim two-vote majority to approve the amendment. Kansas' Sam Brownback said the timetable language must be withdrawn if the troop funding bill is ever to be approved.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: I think it has to come out of the final bill for it to pass. The president will not sign this. It is a bad idea to put a time line in this. It's a bad idea to do a time line in a war. It just gives your enemies a chance to say, "This is the time at which you're defeated."

KWAME HOLMAN: With a very close vote expected on Cochran's amendment, Vice President Cheney arrived at the Capitol to rally Republicans at their weekly luncheon. Heading into that meeting, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel made it clear he would break with his party and vote to keep the withdrawal language in the bill.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: It is now time for the Congress to get involved and to set conditions and parameters as to our further involvement in Iraq. I think it's wrong to escalate our military involvement in Iraq.

The Congress now must play a role. The American people expect us to. Constitutionally, we have a responsibility to do that. Now is the time to do that. This is the first bill, the supplemental, that gives us an opportunity to do that.

Democratic dissenters

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats had their own dissenters to worry about. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas both have criticized the idea of making a timetable public.

And as Democrats surely expected, they would not be able to count on independent Joe Lieberman to help them defeat the amendment. He consistently has supported the Bush administration's execution of the war.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), Connecticut: The administration is politically weak. The war is politically unpopular. It has never been easier to advocate a withdrawal. But I cannot support it, because I believe deeply that it would be wrong. Our cause in Iraq remains just and necessary.

KWAME HOLMAN: But number-two Democrat Dick Durbin said the amendment must be defeated, arguing that approving more war funding without conditions would be irresponsible in light of ongoing American sacrifices.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: We have spent $500 billion of our treasure in Iraq that could have been spent in the United States for the betterment of our people in our country. We have given to the Iraqi people more than any other nation could ask for in the world.

We have stood behind them. We have deposed their dictator. We've given them free governance. We've given them a chance at a constitution and free elections. And now it's time for us to make it clear to the Iraqis: It is their country. It is their war. It is their future.

Cochran amendment vote

KWAME HOLMAN: The vote was called just after 5 p.m.

SENATOR: The question is on the amendment of the senator from Mississippi.

SENATOR: Thank you. I ask for the yeas and nays, Mr. President.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the roll call unfolded, Vice President Cheney reportedly was nearby, in case he was needed for a tie-breaking vote. He would not have made a difference.

SENATOR: The amendment is not agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Cochran amendment failed 50-48, leaving in the bill the troop redeployment mandate and suggested withdrawal date.

The $122 billion funding measure still is subject to further amendment, and a final vote is expected within days. It still must be reconciled with the House version before going to the president, whose veto threat remains in effect.