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Iraq Whip Team Shifts Into Gear

Despite the defection of at least one Chief Deputy Majority Whip, Democratic leaders have begun a full-court press on their Caucus to round up crucial support as the House prepares to take up the $124 billion Iraq War supplemental spending bill this week.

House lawmakers are expected to vote on the measure — which would implement a timeline entailing the withdrawal of U.S. troops no later than 2008 — as early as Thursday.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Friday that Democrats’ operation this week must focus largely on a group of approximately two-dozen Democrats who remain undecided or appear likely to vote against the measure.

“The remaining 200 or so are either ‘yes’ or leaning ‘yes,’” Clyburn asserted of the 233-member majority. As Republican lawmakers are vowing to largely oppose the measure — with only a few exceptions — Democrats cannot afford to lose more than 15 of their own to guarantee the bill will pass.

“I’d say this one is a full-court press,” said one Democratic aide, who asked not to be named. “It’s all hands on deck.”

Despite those efforts, however, at least one member of the Democratic team, Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), a Chief Deputy Majority Whip, has vowed not to assist in the vote count, citing her own objections to the proposal.

The California lawmaker, a co-chairwoman of the Out of Iraq Caucus. said last week she would not, however, whip against the measure either. It remains to be seen whether other Members of the Iraq Caucus, including Chief Deputy Majority Whip Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) or Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip John Lewis (Ga.) could do the same.

But Clyburn, who said no Members have personally informed him they will not take part in the vote count, asserted that Democrats expect occasional disagreements within their membership, even among those members in senior roles.

“If there is some recalcitrance within the whip organization, we have organized it in such a way to be able to accommodate that,” Clyburn said, citing the numerous layers of the whip team, which is divided by geographic region as well as internal caucuses. “We know full well that there will be instances where a Chief Deputy Whip or an assistant whip or a regional whip may have problems with a particular piece of legislation that the party is whipping.”

“It’s all done in such a way as to maintain some … balance between effectiveness and efficiency, which you have to have when you’re as diverse as we are,” he added. “It doesn’t put us in a crisis mode.”

Clyburn noted that Chief Deputy Whips occupy the top echelons of the organization, rarely directly whipping any Member unless “we get a report from our assistant whips that other assistance is needed … to secure a positive response.”

“In this instance if we get to that in a region that has been assigned to one of those people who has problems with this, it’ll just come to me,” he said.

Clyburn also asserted that two members of the whip operation, whom he did not name, remain either opposed to or undecided on the legislation but continue to push the measure on behalf of the leadership, and have reported support from their colleagues.

Democrats also cite last week’s Appropriations Committee markup, which passed with the approval of all but one Democrat, Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), as a measure of their confidence as the spending bill heads to the floor this week.

“If you look at the committee vote, the Members that we picked up that were ‘noes’ last week and ‘yes’es’ this week, it signals the direction we’re going in,” said the Democratic aide, citing Reps. José Serrano (N.Y.), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), Bud Cramer (Ala.) and Allen Boyd (Fla.).

“It’s going to be a challenge because it will come down mostly on party lines, but we think we have something most people can get behind,” the aide later added.

But Democrats were continuing to grapple with internal divisions last week as progressive lawmakers criticized the inclusion of funds to support an increase in troops dictated by President Bush, and called for a withdrawal to be completed by late 2007.

According to Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), at least 15 Democrats will vote against the bill unless it is significantly altered this week.

Some Democrats, including members of the whip team, said last week that they did not believe Democratic leadership would actively pressure Members on the spending bill — asserting that the legislation is a “matter of conscience,” similar to the nonbinding resolution condemning the troop increase passed in the House last month — but Clyburn dismissed those expectations, citing many domestic spending items in the legislation as well as the withdrawal timeline.

“I think if people were to really sit down and think about what is the conscientious thing to do about [Hurricane] Katrina [recovery], about children without health insurance, about our veterans, and about this war, [then] this is not a vote to go to war. This is a vote to end the war,” Clyburn said. “This vote is to establish a bright line toward a definite date toward disengagement.

“People who will only vote on these issues according to their conscience really need to examine what is or is not the conscientious thing to do,” he added.

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