TOPICS > Politics

Senate Defeats Troop Withdrawal Deadline

March 15, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Anti-war protesters rallied outside and inside the halls of Congress today, as the Iraq war took center stage on both sides of the Capitol.

At a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats moved forward on a $124 billion emergency spending bill that also calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by September 2008, and even sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements.

Chairman David Obey.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), Chair, Committee on Appropriations: It sets a timeline for bringing the United States’ participation in Iraq to an end based on the conduct of Iraqi politicians and religious leaders.

KWAME HOLMAN: Ninety-five billion dollars in the bill is devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the bill would set hard deadlines for the Iraqi government to meet a series of benchmarks President Bush laid out last month.

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 Oct. 1 of this year, the president must certify that those benchmarks have been met. If those certifications cannot be made, 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.

The top Republican on the committee, Jerry Lewis, said the benchmarks would tie the president’s hands in a time of war.

REP. JERRY LEWIS (R), California: It ought to respect, not micromanage, our combatant commanders in whom we place the ultimate responsibility for processing and prosecuting military actions.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many Democrats want U.S. troops out of Iraq right away. New York’s Jose Serrano, who previously called for immediate withdrawal, agonized over his committee vote today.

REP. JOSE SERRANO (D), New York: I want this war to end. I don’t want to go to any more funerals. And so I will take whatever heat is given to one of the only three who voted to get out immediately and support this bill today and support it on the floor next week.

KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Republicans had hoped to eliminate the benchmark requirements in the bill, but were unsuccessful. The debate moves to the full House next week.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a binding resolution that would advocate withdrawal of U.S. troops by April 2008 failed to gather a needed bipartisan majority of 60 votes. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham led Republicans in charging that the withdrawal resolution, sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, would be a costly mistake.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: If the Senate did pass a resolution setting a specific date, March of next year, where we will begin to redeploy if certain things are not done in Iraq, then I am convinced that in the Mideast it will be taken as a sign of weakness, not strength.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans defeated the resolution on a largely party-line vote.

But the parties came together on two non-binding resolutions, one authored by New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg, which opposed any future cutoff of funding for troops in the field, and another from Washington State’s Patty Murray, which encouraged general support for the troops.

Debating the bill

Sen. Jack Reed
I see this as progress in doing what the American people are demanding, that is a better policy in Iraq, a policy that recognizes we have missions there, but those missions should be narrowly drawn.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For two views on the Iraq debate, we hear from Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

And Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who's the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Sen. Kyl, to you first. You are in the Republican minority in the Senate, but your side prevailed on what people were seeing as the most critical vote here today. Add it all up for us. What happened today?

SEN. JON KYL (R), Arizona: Well, I think it was a devastating defeat for the Democratic leadership, which had been calling for weeks for a vote on its resolution. We allowed the vote, and the majority voted against the resolution to micromanage the war.

And this is as it should be. The Petraeus plan is actually showing signs of early success, and it would be a big mistake to pull the rug out from under the troops just as that success is beginning to be demonstrated. The consequences, of course, would be devastating.

It's interesting that many Democrats before had opposed timetables and deadlines, rightly noting that it would just give the enemy a way to figure out how to wait us out and then win, and yet they supported the resolution today. Fortunately, a majority voted against it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Reed, how do you see it all add up?

SEN. JACK REED (D), Rhode Island: Well, I see this as progress in doing what the American people are demanding, that is a better policy in Iraq, a policy that recognizes we have missions there, but those missions should be narrowly drawn: to train Iraqi security forces, to protect our forces, and to go after terrorists, and that, beyond those missions, we should begin a redeployment of our combat forces.

That's what I think the American people want and are demanding, and I think today it represents an increase in the terms of support that we're receiving.

Last June, Sen. Levin and I introduced a similar resolution, and we received about 30-plus votes; today, 48 votes, including one Republican member.

So this is not strictly on party lines. This is, I think, responding to the true concerns of the American public, and this is an issue that we have to continue to address again and again.

Voting along party lines?

Sen. Jon Kyl
[T]he Democrats have a majority in the Senate, but they lost the vote. Three of the Democrats voted with Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Sen. Reed, you say it was not along strictly on party lines, but 48-50, you had all the Republicans, plus Sen. Joe Lieberman, voting against you.

SEN. JACK REED: And we had Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon voting with us. So I think what you're seeing here is what is reflected across the country.

This is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue; this is the profound concern of the American public about the policy direction in Iraq. They're very concerned. They want to change direction, and I think today's vote and today's policy represents that direction.

It does recognize that we have continuing missions in Iraq, but those missions are not to be the umpire in a civil war. Those missions are to protect our troops, to go after terrorists, and to train Iraqi security forces to fight their battles and hopefully win their battles. And I think that's the policy ultimately that will be accepted.

I can also recall that last June, in the Levin-Reed resolution, we called for a regional conference, which everyone opposed. And just last week, and fortunately the administration finally accepted the notion that they have to start talking to the neighbors.

So this effort is going to continue. It's making progress. And I think it's the direction the American public want us to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Kyl, is that the message coming through, as far as you're concerned, from today's votes?

SEN. JON KYL: It's kind of hard to spin a defeat into a victory, as my friend, Jack Reed, is trying to do. Of course, the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, but they lost the vote. Three of the Democrats voted with Republicans.

You know, the American people do want us to be able to leave Iraq but they also don't want us to leave a defeated mission. They want to win, if at all possible.

And I think they appreciate the fact that the Petraeus plan here has a chance of success. In fact, Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman who co-chaired the Baker-Hamilton study, Iraq Study Group, testified on June 30 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that we should give this plan a chance to succeed.

And I agree with that, and it appears, in its early returns, to be succeeding.

I was there just a couple of weeks ago, and both the Iraqi leaders with whom we spoke, as well as our American commanders, were cautiously optimistic that this had a good chance to succeed. So I hope this vote today demonstrates that we're not yet ready to pull out the rugs from under the troops. We do want to see it succeed to give it a chance.

The other proposals

Sen. Jack Reed
I can recall budgets being sent up here where there were not sufficient requests for armored vehicles when we needed them, and Congress had to put that in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Reed, the two other proposals that were voted on, the Democratic proposal from Sen. Patty Murray, the other proposal from Sen. Judd Gregg, both of those passed overwhelmingly. What do they accomplish?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, I think what they do is say that we support our troops in the field and we'll continue to fund them. I think the Murray proposal was much better, in the sense that it also recognizes the president has an obligation, working with us, to support the troops.

I can recall budgets being sent up here where there were not sufficient requests for armored vehicles when we needed them, and Congress had to put that in. So it's not just the responsibility of the Congress to fully fund; the president has to fully fund.

We've all just witnessed the debacle at Walter Reed. That was a function, I believe, in many respects of the president and others not asking for the resources they need to take care of returning veterans.

So the Murray proposal, I think, went to the heart of it: We do have an obligation to fully support our troops in the field, not to interfere with our operations in the field, and that obligation also extends to when they return home. And it also involves the president, not just the Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Kyl, do you see those other amendments, either the one from Sen. Murray, saying, in essence, we support the troops, the one from Sen. Gregg, sponsored by Sen. Gregg, saying we won't cut funding for the troops as advancing the debate here?

SEN. JON KYL: Actually, I do. I think they're both important, because they establish a precedent.

The Democratic leader has announced that next week, when the supplemental appropriation bill -- or in two weeks, when the supplemental appropriation bill is brought before us, we're going to have the same debate again. They were intending to put this same resolution in the very bill that needs to pass in order to fund the troops.

I think the fact that it was defeated today is a strong signal to them, along with the other two amendments passing, that we're going to fund the troops, that we all want to fund the troops. That's a pretty good signal that they shouldn't try to put this same resolution in this important supplemental appropriations bill.

Again, when I was in Iraq, the commanders asked me, pleaded with me, "Please make sure that we get the funding without any strings attached so that we can perform the mission." The supplemental appropriation bill to fund the war effort should not include these kinds of resolutions in the future.

The future of Iraq

Sen. Jon Kyl
It used to be everybody understood the deadlines and timetables were not a good thing. I think the debate in the last couple of days demonstrated that they are still not a good, thing and that's one reason this resolution was defeated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Reed, do I hear you saying that you think what happened today says that the United States is closer to ending its involvement in Iraq?

SEN. JACK REED: What has happened today is that this approach to changing our mission is taking on, I think, increased energy, increased support, because I think it resonates with the American people and also it matches, I believe, the reality on the ground.

There are continuing missions that we must confront in Iraq. This is not a question of pulling up our stakes and leaving tomorrow. But those missions are not moderating a civil war. They involve protecting our troops, training Iraqi troops, and going after terrorists.

In fact, that mission is worldwide. We can perform those missions; we should perform those missions. They'll be fully resourced by this Congress and, I hope, by the president.

But I think it represents the reality that, ultimately, the future of Iraq, and particularly with respect to this sectarian violence, will have to be decided by Iraqi political leaders, by political decisions they make. We can help them, but they have to make those political decisions.

And I think also this sends a strong signal to the Iraqi government that they do not have unlimited time and we do not have unlimited patience, that they have to be much more aggressive in dealing politically and solving their own problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Kyl, is that how you see what today's vote and debate says?

SEN. JON KYL: No, I don't. First of all, again, the other side lost. They didn't win. The majority realized we can't micromanage this war.

Senators are not very good war fighters, with all due respect. This is the 17th resolution to come out of the Democratic -- either the House or the Senate -- to try to, in some way or other, oppose our war effort there. I'm glad the first ones didn't get passed, but it just shows you the confusion in the Democratic ranks about what to do here.

And you cannot have Congress micromanaging the war. We have a plan, the Petraeus plan. It appears in its early stages to be working.

And this isn't just about a civil war. You've got very dangerous al-Qaida elements in Iraq. In fact, everybody recognizes that they're the biggest problem in the Anbar province, which is the other area, other than Baghdad, in which we're putting the majority of our new troops.

So, clearly, we have some additional work to do to stabilize the country so that the Iraqi government can have the confidence of the people to govern there. There are early signs that that's succeeding. We need to give it a chance to succeed, and that's what the vote today did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Reed, Sen. Kyl, you can hear what he's saying. He's saying there's confusion in your party's ranks. He's saying there's still work to be done in Iraq. What's next, as far as you're concerned?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, what's next is, I think, to continue to argue for the best policy, which I believe, speaking for myself, is concentrating on the missions which are most critical to our national security and also beginning a phased withdrawal.

I think those are the critical missions and that's the critical policy, and I think eventually that must take place.

The cost on our military is staggering, in terms of the operational tempo, in terms of their efforts, which is superb and magnificent. But eventually I think we have to recognize that this will be decided fundamentally by the Iraqis, and they will do it, and we can help, but they will do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to both of you, Sen. Reed, are the American people getting the debate that some said they were saying they wanted in the November election?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, we are trying to get that debate. I think that's encouraging that today, at least, we weren't stopped on procedural matters, that we had a debate, we had a vote. I think that's progress, in terms of its responding to the concern of the American people.

They want to hear this discussed. They don't want it shuffled under the rug. And for the preceding Republican Congress, there was no oversight, no serious debate, no serious considerations. It was just simply a rubber stamp for the administration.

And talk about sort of the inability of civilians to conduct the war, Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al, have set a very low standard in terms of civilian control of the military.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Sen. Kyl, same question. Are the American people getting the debate that some say they deserve on this question?

SEN. JON KYL: Yes. And I certainly agree with Jack Reed that we need as much debate on this as the public will stand. We've been doing it now for about four weeks almost straight, and I'm happy to continue to have the debate, because the more people can talk this through and understand it, I think the better off we are.

It used to be everybody understood the deadlines and timetables were not a good thing. I think the debate in the last couple of days demonstrated that they are still not a good, thing and that's one reason this resolution was defeated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Sen. Jon Kyl, Sen. Jack Reed. Thank you both, gentlemen.