Congress unleashes antiwar proposals
Setting up a showdown with the White House that could come next week, several antiwar senators, including one Republican, introduced a resolution Wednesday opposing President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.
The bipartisan resolution drafted by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) would not place any legal limits on what the president can do in Iraq.
But it marks the leading edge of a rapidly expanding legislative front that will confront Bush as he tries to chart a new Iraq policy.
Wednesday, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) also touted separate plans to halt the deployment of more troops to Iraq. And later in the day, a second GOP senator joined Hagel to support the resolution.
On the other side of the Capitol, liberal Democrats in the House, led by three Californians, unveiled an even more sweeping plan for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq over the next six months.
“The November elections showed just how fed up the American public is with the president’s failed Iraq policy,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) said while unveiling her measure, co-sponsored by Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). “It is now up to the Congress to catch up with the will of the American public.”
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said congressional resolutions would not deter Bush. “The president has obligations as commander in chief, and he will go ahead and execute them,” Snow said.
Senate leaders have shown little interest in pushing as far as the more aggressive antiwar lawmakers in the House, who want to mandate a phased withdrawal in law. But, stern and defiant, the three authors of the Senate resolution cast it as an important first step in building bipartisan congressional support for challenging the White House. “I cannot believe the president of the United States will not pay attention,” Biden said.
Hagel, a conservative Republican who has lambasted Bush’s plan, called it “dangerously irresponsible” and promised, “I will do everything I can to stop the president’s policy as he outlined it Wednesday night.”
“The Congress of the United States has a role to play,” Hagel said at a news conference with Biden and Levin in the U.S. Capitol. “I don’t believe we have played that role very effectively over the last four years.”
The carefully worded five-page resolution restates in 18 detailed “whereas” clauses the critiques made by war critics in Congress and elsewhere about rising U.S. casualties, strains on the military and past failures of the Iraqi government.
“It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq,” the resolution reads in the first of six conclusions.
It also calls for American forces to shift their mission to protecting Iraq’s borders, training Iraqi forces and conducting counterterrorism activities.
And it concludes by calling for the United States to “transfer, under an appropriately expedited timeline, responsibility for internal security and halting sectarian violence in Iraq to the government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces.”
At the news conference, Biden said, “When the president goes way off course ... the single and most effective way to get him to change course is to demonstrate that his policy has waning or no support from both parties.”
Since announcing his plans last week, the president has insisted in several television interviews that he would not be stopped by congressional opposition.
But over the last 10 days, the White House has worked to persuade GOP lawmakers to stick with the president, and on Wednesday morning invited a group of senators to meet with national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley, a leading architect of the president’s plan.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), normally a loyal Bush ally, said White House officials expressed frustration that their message wasn’t getting out. “To some extent, people have tuned the president out,” he said.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who has spoken out against the Bush plan, said Hadley mainly listened to the lawmakers, many of whom have publicly criticized the president’s proposal since he announced it last week.
Cornered by reporters outside the Senate chamber, Coleman said there was some discussion of delaying the deployment of additional troops to give the Iraqi government a chance to demonstrate its commitment. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have complained about the failure of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s administration to do more to halt sectarian violence.
But Coleman said nothing was decided at the meeting. “I went there with concerns. I left with concerns,” he said. “I would suspect there was very little mind changing that went on there.”
Coleman said he was still reviewing the language of the resolution, which calls the troop buildup an “escalation,” a word some Republicans have complained is politically loaded because it harks back to the Vietnam War.
Wednesday evening, Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a moderate Republican who has frequently criticized the Bush administration’s war policy, became the second Republican to support the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution.
“Now is the time for the Congress to make its voice heard,” Snowe said.
Facing the threat of a Republican filibuster, Senate Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to get the 60 votes needed to bring the resolution to a vote.
In the House, Republicans, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), were lining up behind a proposal by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) to explicitly prohibit any cuts in funding for troops “in harm’s way.”
Biden said the Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, would consider the resolution on Wednesday, the day after the president delivers his State of the Union address, in hopes of getting it to the floor as soon as the end of next week.
Neither he nor Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, would say whether they planned to pursue legislation to cut funds for the buildup. “What goes on beyond that is going to depend on the reaction to it,” Levin said.
But other Democrats are already pushing forward.
Dodd said Wednesday that he planned to try to amend the resolution to require Bush to get congressional authorization for any increase in troop levels in Iraq, explaining that he believes the president has exceeded the power that Congress gave him in the original war resolution.
“I do not believe that the authorization provided by the Congress in 2002 gives the president the unlimited authority to send additional troops to Iraq for a mission which is totally different,” Dodd said.
Clinton, who until now has remained largely in the background while debate over the war escalated, said she would introduce a bill next week requiring congressional authorization for any troop increases.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation last week to do much the same thing.
In a conference call with antiwar activists Wednesday, Kennedy said he wanted to move forward with his bill in the next week to 10 days. “This is the moment for congressional action to bring this war to an end,” he said.
Times staff writers Richard Simon and James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.
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In October 2002, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. With the war now widely unpopular, that vote has become an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, particularly in the Democratic race. Here is a look at how some announced and potential candidates for president voted on the resolution. (A yes vote was in favor of authorizing force and in support of the president’s position.)
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.)...YES
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.)...YES
Sen. Christopher J.. Dodd (Conn.)...YES
Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.)...YES
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.)...YES
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio)...NO
Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.)...YES
Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.)...YES
Rep. Duncan Hunter (El Cajon)...YES
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)...YES
Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)...YES
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)...YES
*Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was not in the Senate when Congress voted to authorize the war, but said at the time that he opposed giving Bush authority to invade Iraq.
Source: Los Angeles Times