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Democrats Mulling Strategic Shift on Iraq

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - As Capitol Briefing has noted, the primary theme of this year's House Democratic retreat was the economy, not Iraq. That focus continued this morning, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke addressed lawmakers and party leaders pounced on a disappointing new jobs report.

But there has been some discussion of Iraq, and a new debate is developing within the Democratic Caucus over how best to proceed on war policy for the rest of the year.

Speaking to reporters here Thursday, both House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) made comments suggesting they believed the party should move away from last year's strategy of attaching their efforts to force Iraq troop withdrawal onto funding bills for the war.

Instead, the two issues -- funding and withdrawal language -- could move separately, preventing opponents from accusing Democrats of abandoning or starving the military.

"The problem with -- in my opinion, this is my view, speaking for Steny Hoyer -- always attaching [withdrawal language] to funding issues ... [is] that is subject on both sides of the Capitol to concerns about supporting the troops," Hoyer said.

"If you pass and debate policy changes separate and apart from funding support, a) I think we could pass that through the House, and b) I would hope that the Senate would have an extensive debate on that."

Clyburn showed a similar desire to de-link the two issues.

"People seem to feel that any vote for Iraq spending is an expression of support for Iraq policy," he said. "That's just absolutely not true at all."

Asked today whether she agreed with Hoyer and Clyburn on the importance of separating the issues of Iraq funding and withdrawal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn't quite come down on either side.

"I think that it is very important for us to have serious legislation on policy that relates to Iraq. We'll talk to the Caucus to see what approach [to take]. ... We'll see what the Caucus is willing to do as far as bifurcation," Pelosi said.

At the same time, Roll Call reports (subscription required) that Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a leading antiwar voice, is preparing new legislation that would curtail Iraq funding and would mandate the gradual withdrawal of troops over the course of the year. The measure would be attached to the next military supplemental bill, for which the Pentagon is requesting $70 billion.

There has always been a significant split among Congressional Democrats over how hard to push on Iraq. Some in the party, fueled by grassroots support, want Congress to simply stop funding the war entirely, believing that's the only way to force an end to the war.

Other Democrats, including Hoyer, want to hasten an end to the war but believe a cut-off of funding would be disastrous for both the military and for the party's standing with the public.

In 2007, Democrats tried to use various Iraq funding bills as the vehicles for their policy aims. It didn't work. There were never enough Republican votes to move such measures through Congress or to override a presidential veto if a bill did get through. At the end of the year, Democrats held out so long on Iraq funding that they ended up submarining their entire appropriations strategy, and they lost the chance to get their desired domestic funding increases in the process.

So what's next? The one benefit to using spending bills to change Iraq policy was that it forced those issues onto the table -- spending bills have to move, one way or another. A standalone Iraq bill not tied to funding might get through the House, but it would face a difficult 60-vote hurdle in the Senate and, again, a powerful veto pen.

But Democrats have tried coupling the issues together, and that failed, giving even vulnerable Republicans an easy reason to vote against the bills while opening the majority up to attacks from the GOP.

The majority could try to tie Iraq policy changes to consideration of a Status of Forces Agreement, which would set out the long-term relationship between the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. So far, the Bush administration has suggested such an agreement needn't be ratified by Congress. Democrats strongly disagree.

Above all, Democratic leaders don't want a repeat of last year. They may well decide to follow Hoyer's advice and shift strategy. But first they'll have to convince their own members.

By Ben Pershing  |  February 1, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , Dem. Leaders , Iraq  
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Next: Budget Day on Capitol Hill


she say it part of her stum and sa it all th time. its not new. i have seen 6 of the 17 debates, they stutering by now, but i saw Michelle Obamam last night on CSPAN. Sghe won the debate last night. he has a Coretta.

Posted by: rawdawgbuffalo | February 1, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Democrats' claims that they really support the troops by mandating surrender and cutting their funding requires a willing suspension of disbelief, especially now that we are winning the war.

Posted by: Matt | February 2, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the democratic party does need to change the debate about Iraq.

I'd enthusiastically support identifying those blue dogs in congress who haven't gotten the message that this war was, is, and will forever be, a tragic mistake of global proportions and focus on removing those "democrats" from office.

And anyone who believes that we are winning this war would believe that supporting a dictator will promote democracy.

And war is peace.

Steny Hoyer and his politicos ARE the problem.

Posted by: TheFrog | February 3, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

We are not " winning' any war in Iraq, any more than the russians won in Afghanistan. It is only a question of time and we will leave.
We are fighting and losing wars on poverty; war on illiteracy;war on drugs. We are too war-like. We like to think we Americans are nice,friendly people, who want peace! But, we don't play the part. We are, in fact, a very warlike nation!We need to face these facts.
And,we Americans love dictators; Pinochet;Fujimora;Musharrif;(at one time, Saddam Hussein himself);murderous Roberto Salazar,who chased the El Salvadoreans to the US where they formed the deadly MS 13; Shah of Iran,argentinian death squads;the list goes on and on.
Maybe Caeser Chavez was on to something when he said America was like a blind, dumb giant, stumbling around the globe wreaking havoc wherever we go.
We should undergo a thorough vetting of our foreign policy, to include the role of the CIA, so as to stop being the bully of the world.

Posted by: thopaine | February 3, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats just do not get it!! Part of the discontentment in the heartland was the lack of a winning strategy. Americans want to win the war in Iraq (and we are winning). Policitcal progress is being made among the Iraqi as well.

For the Democrats to continue to insist the opposite opens them up for the charge that they oppose it only for their political gain, not for the interests of the country. One can begin to legitimately speculate on their patriotism. I grew up in the 1960's. The Democrats in Congress abandoned South Vietnam and Cambodia when they cut off the funding. The pictures of the chaos at the US embassay in Saigon was chilling; the denial of the cruelty of the Pol Pot regime by Democrats was equally stunning. The Democratic Party needs to find a Scope Jackson in their party or they will never be taken seriously when it comes to the safety and security of the country.

Posted by: Hunter | February 4, 2008 1:00 AM | Report abuse

Great minds can argue whether progress in Iraq should be measured in millimeters or fractions of an inch. What cannot be denied is the human toll. The Bush-Cheney war has directly killed more Americans than the 9/11 terrorists, and many many times that in Iraqi's (who, it should not be forgotten, were not involved in 9/11). I served 2 tours flying helicopters in Vietnam; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldiers Medal and 3 Air Medals for Valor. Though not physically scarred, I felt lucky to have escaped the nightmares and cold sweats, and death thoughts after two decades. You know many of my comrades who haven't coped as well. They make up the majority of the homeless you push from sidewalk to park to shelters. We are now sending our soldiers for 3 and 4 and more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The damage to this generation of American patriots is horrendous, ongoing, and needless. When this war started, only one Republican in a leadership role in Congress or the White House had ever served this country in war. General Powell, knowing first hand the costs and odds of success, counseled against it. There is one lesson of Vietnam that the Democrats including the Presidential candidates should not ignore. (Republicans cannot and will not face it.) Iraq will end badly whenever we finally call it quits. Every day we delay a unilateral withdrawal only serves to increase the human toll.

Posted by: StephenB | February 4, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

President Bush was fundamentally correct that an American boots-on-the-ground campaign in the Middle East was necessary to control the export of radical Islamic terrorism to the United States and its global trading partners.

Furthermore, he was correct that democracy is the only antithesis to radical Islamic sectarian rule and secular authoritarianism.

However, President Bush and his principal advisors, Vice-President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, failed on a massive scale to understand and implement measures necessary to turn Arab Muslims away from their 14 centuries of theocracy and Islamic xenophobia.

Following the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration failed to counter the centuries-old violent practice of Muslim opposition to domination by non-Islamic powers and of Shi'a and Sunni Muslims to battle one another for control.

A simple understanding of Islamic history would have forecast the need for the United States to implement strong military counterterrorism measures from the moment of the invasion.

Two events illustrated the tragic misunderstanding. President Bush stepped onto the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, before a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," and said that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

The second illustration was the December 8, 2004, statement by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in response to Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard: "As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Some say the United States should withdraw because Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were so wrong, so incompetent.

America cannot withdraw; there is no choice but to prevail against Islamic radicalism in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and throughout the world. Failure means future 9/11 attacks upon the United States and Europe, interruption of the Middle East oil supply and consequent economic disaster worldwide.

Oil is not a joke, as in, "It's the oil, stupid." Oil is the lifeline of the industrialized world economy. If left to their own ends, radical Muslims will cripple Middle East wells, pipelines and shipping though the Gulf of Hormuz.

Use of Iraq as a partisan political issue at this point in time is mindless. Those who botched the operation must be held accountable. But first America must save itself and the global economy.

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