About Democrats Split Over Their Approach To Iraq
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Democrats Split Over Their Approach To Iraq info
January 9, 2007
By Jeff Zeleny
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — The new Democratic majority in Congress is divided over how to assert its power in opposing President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, as leaders explore ways to block financing for a military expansion without being accused of abandoning American forces already in Iraq.
While Democrats find themselves unusually united in their resistance to a troop increase, party leaders are locked in an internal debate over how far to go in objecting to the administration’s Iraq strategy. The White House has invited some Democrats to meet with Mr. Bush before he gives his Iraq speech on Wednesday, even as others have scoured the history books to find cases when Congress has reined in the commander in chief.
In the most aggressive of the new tactics, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, has said he will introduce legislation on Tuesday to require the president to gain new Congressional authority before sending more troops to Iraq. The bill is the first proposal in the Senate that would prohibit paying for an increase in American troops over their level on Jan. 1.
“Is there any American in this country who thinks the United States Senate would vote to support sending American troops into a civil war in Iraq today?” Mr. Kennedy said Monday in an interview. “Is there any American that believes this? I don’t think so, but that is what’s happening, and we have to do everything we can to insist on accountability.”
The Kennedy plan is intended to provide Democrats with a road map for how to proceed in Iraq. Mr. Kennedy, as he begins his 45th year in the Senate, recalled that Congress interceded during conflicts in Vietnam and Lebanon, and he said Democrats should not hesitate to do so in Iraq.
The new House speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, has similarly suggested that Democrats consider blocking financing for a troop increase, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, vowed Monday “to take a look at it.”
But the House majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, has not endorsed the idea. Other Democrats, either looking ahead to a possible presidential candidacy or their own re-elections, have also distanced themselves from such a proposal, fearful of being cast as opposing the troops.
“I don’t think we should be pulling back any funds,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who was elected in November. She said she would oppose a proposal to block money for a troop increase.
The Democratic Party sailed to victory in midterm elections in the fall on a promise to change course in Iraq. Still, there is little consensus over how to proceed.
Some Democrats are urging an immediate withdrawal of troops and a drastic reduction in war spending. Others are calling for a gradual re-deployment of troops to move them out of Iraq. Still other Democrats are waiting for Mr. Bush to present his plan before criticizing it.
The expectations set by the elections, Democrats say, present a complicating challenge as they begin to govern.
Take, for example, Mr. Reid, who said on Dec. 17 that he would support a plan for a temporary increase in increase troops. Two weeks later, he announced his opposition, saying his change had nothing to do with other Democratic senators having spoken out against it, but rather with military officials having disagreed with a call for more troops.
Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said he believed that his party lost the White House in 2004 because of Iraq. “My concern now is that too many Democrats are going to want to play it safe on this issue and not take the strong stand that American people demand,” he said Monday.
The pressure from war critics on the Democratic left has been particularly intense. “The bottom line is that they were elected on a mandate to get the nation out of the mess in Iraq,” said Eli Pariser, the executive director of MoveOn.org, a liberal political action committee.
By law, Congress can limit the nature of troop deployments, cap the size of military deployments and cut financing for existing or prospective deployments.
Since 1970, there have been dozens of occasions in which Congress has tried to step into military action, from Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo, according to a memorandum being sent Tuesday to lawmakers by the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group.
Representative Adam Smith of Washington, vice chairman of the moderate New Democratic Coalition, said he feared that withholding financing — even for new troops being sent to Iraq — could have a detrimental effect on all forces.
“I don’t want our troops to be caught between the president and Congress in a political fight,” said Mr. Smith, who was to receive a briefing on Tuesday at the White House. “If there are any risks that our efforts to slash the budget would place them at greater risk, that would be unacceptable to me.”
But Democrats who are trying to stop Mr. Bush’s proposed troop increase, a group led by Mr. Kennedy, say their proposal to block financing will apply only to new troops. Mr. Kennedy said he hoped that his legislation would be urgently considered by the full Senate, but acknowledged that it remained an open question whether his Democratic leaders would schedule it for a quick vote.
“The importance of this legislation is that it will apply now before we could get the escalation,” he said. “If you wait, this thing is going to be past. I’m not sure that all of our colleagues in the Senate understand that, quite frankly.”
Sabrina Pacifici contributed research.
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