Clinton Proposes Vote To Reverse Authorizing War

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
May 4, 2007
By Carl Hulse and Patrick Healy
WASHINGTON, May 3 — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed Thursday that Congress repeal the authority it gave President Bush in 2002 to invade Iraq, injecting presidential politics into the Congressional debate over financing the war.
Mrs. Clinton’s proposal brings her full circle on Iraq — she supported the war measure five years ago — and it sharpens her own political positioning at a time when Democrats are vying to confront the White House.
“It is time to reverse the failed policies of President Bush and to end this war as soon as possible,” Mrs. Clinton said as she joined Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, in calling for a vote to end the authority as of Oct. 11, the fifth anniversary of the original vote.
Her stance emerged just as Congressional leaders and the White House opened delicate negotiations over a new war-financing measure to replace the one that Mr. Bush vetoed Tuesday.
Even if Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Byrd succeed in their effort, it is not clear whether President Bush would have to withdraw troops, or if he could resist by claiming that Congress cannot withdraw its earlier authorization but instead has to deny money for the war to achieve that result.
The question could prompt a constitutional debate over war powers that only the federal courts could resolve.
Mostly, Mrs. Clinton appeared to be trying to claim a new leadership position among the Democratic presidential candidates against the war in Iraq.
She supported the war early on, but she has turned into a staunch critic of the administration’s performance on Iraq. She has been saying that she granted Mr. Bush the authority to go to war based on intelligence reports at the time, but that the reports have since proved wrong.
Now, her advisers say, a vote to withdraw authorization would make plain to antiwar and liberal Democrats that she was repudiating her 2002 vote. The hope among her aides was that demands by antiwar voters for her to apologize for her vote would be rendered moot.
Mrs. Clinton’s vote for the original authorization has been a persistent problem in her presidential bid when contrasted with the positions of other Democratic contenders.
Former Senator John Edwards has repudiated his vote for the war. After Mr. Byrd and Mrs. Clinton announced their plan, Mr. Edwards quickly put out a statement urging Congress to focus on withdrawing troops and not revoking the 2002 authorization.
“Congress should stand its ground and not back down to him,” Mr. Edwards said. “They should send him the same bill he just vetoed, one that supports our troops, ends the war and brings them home.”
Mrs. Clinton pointedly noted that she voted in 2002 to put a one-year limit on Mr. Bush’s war authority, an effort led by Mr. Byrd that failed. Mr. Edwards had opposed that limit.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who was not in Congress at the time of the vote, cites his consistent opposition to the war. Mr. Obama issued a statement on Thursday evening indicating that he would support the effort by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Byrd.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, beating Mrs. Clinton to the punch, called on Congress on Tuesday to withdraw authorization and develop a schedule for the rapid withdrawal of troops.
In February, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, another presidential contender, also raised the prospect of rewriting the authorization to give American forces a much more limited role in Iraq, but that approach ran into resistance from Democrats who said it could be perceived as giving new authority for the war.
Mrs. Clinton said her push for a new vote on the war authority did not mean she would oppose whatever new spending measure might emerge from negotiations between Congress and the White House. But she said she was joining Mr. Byrd in trying to force a new examination of the war in its entirety, rather than simply joust over specific elements of the spending measure.
Talking to reporters after her floor speech in a mostly empty Senate chamber, Mrs. Clinton indicated that her view was that rescinding the original vote would mean that troops would be out as of October. “They have no authority to continue,” she said. “That is the point.”
Later, however, her aides said Mrs. Clinton was not seeking a total withdrawal of troops from Iraq, or a quick pullout that could put troops at risk. They said she had called for a phased pullout that would leave a reduced American force to pursue terrorist cells in Iraq, support the Kurds and conduct other missions — a position she continued to support, her aides said.
The White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said the Clinton-Byrd proposal represented the same sort of artificial timeline that led Mr. Bush to veto the $124 billion spending bill on Tuesday.
“Here we go again,” she said. “The Senate is trying another way to put a surrender date on the calendar. Welcome to politics ’08-style.”
The idea of revoking authority for the war has circulated on Capitol Hill for weeks without gaining much ground. Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, had raised the idea because the original resolution did not envision the prospect of troops caught in a civil war.
Clinton aides said Thursday that while Mr. Byrd’s advisers had talked to them this winter about withdrawing authorization, the new plan only came up between the two senators and their staffs earlier in the day. Moreover, one adviser to Mrs. Clinton said, President Bush’s veto of the Iraq spending bill had left her believing that new types of pressure were needed to force the White House to adopt an exit strategy.
If the White House and Iraqis failed to meet certain benchmarks for progress, according to the proposed legislation, Mr. Bush would need to seek new authority from the Senate to continue in Iraq, which would render the 2002 authority moot, her aides said.
Whatever the prospects for that proposal, Congress and the White House took their first steps on Thursday toward trying to reach agreement on a revised spending measure, when the White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, went to the Capitol to meet with Senate leaders of both parties and the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee.
The legislators would disclose few details, though Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said the talks were constructive. At the same time, Congressional Republicans expressed willingness to consider some form of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to demonstrate that it was bringing the situation there under control.
Democratic aides said the idea of short-term financing of the military was also gaining momentum among their leaders.
Both parties said the critical question would be how or whether to hold the Iraqis responsible for meeting benchmarks of progress. Democrats have suggested that failure to comply should lead directly to troop withdrawals, but Republicans open to the idea of putting teeth in the legislation said any penalties or incentives should be tied to nonmilitary aid.
“I don’t think benchmarks should be taken off the table as a way of putting accountability on the civilian side of the Iraqi effort,” said Representative Adam Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 Republican in the House, who noted that state governments can have federal aid held up if they do not enforce federal laws adequately. “On the Iraqi politicians, it makes some sense, but not on our troops.”
Other Republicans said they were uncertain whether they could go along with penalizing the Iraqis for failing to show gains, but they made it clear that benchmarks were a likely part of any compromise. “I’m willing to talk about benchmarks, as I’ve said before,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader.
Mr. Reid and other Democrats said that all options, including timelines, remained on the table in their talks with the White House, and he raised the idea of giving the administration the ability to waive such requirements. But, he added, “we aren’t taking it all out.”