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Leaders Mount Final Iraq Push

Undecideds Face Pressure

In a final push to move the Iraq War spending bill to the House floor today, House Democratic leaders continued an all-out offensive Wednesday to secure votes from the rank-and-file membership.

According to Democratic lawmakers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders were particularly aggressive Wednesday afternoon, meeting with the handful of lawmakers who remained uncommitted on the $124 billion spending bill.

“I think it’s coming together. There’s enormous pressure on people at this point,” asserted one Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified.

In addition, the Democrat said that the Tuesday decision to support the bill by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) — a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus who widely had been expected to vote against the bill — as well as the weekend announcement by the anti-war, prompted additional conversions Wednesday from similarly reluctant Members.

But some Members, including freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), steadfastly refused to declare an allegiance Wednesday afternoon, adding to uncertainty over when Democrats would move forward on the spending bill.

“The more people who lay heat on me, the more likely I am not to listen to them,” Ellison said, adding: “I have made up my mind, I’m not ready to talk about it.”

Ellison did indicate it is unlikely he simply would vote “present” on the matter.“I would consider it, but I don’t think I would do that,” he said.

With all but a few Republican lawmakers expected to oppose the spending bill — which would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than 2008 — Democrats can afford to lose only 15 Members and still find the 218 votes necessary to win passage.

Democrats are expected to begin short at least one vote, as Rep. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) continues to recover from bypass surgery, and Republicans will have no representation from the empty seat held by recently deceased Rep. Charlie Norwood (Ga.).

In a broader attempt to shore up votes, Democratic leaders also invited Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under the Carter administration, to meet with the full Democratic Caucus on Wednesday morning.

According to Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Brzezinski advised lawmakers that voting against the war supplemental would be equivalent to endorsing a measure with “no strings attached.”

While Pelosi declined requests for comment en route from the House floor to her ceremonial office, one member of the Democratic Whip operation, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), remained optimistic that the majority would secure the remaining votes this week.

“These things tend to pick up momentum,” Crowley said, adding of the message emphasized with Members: “We have to show that this is our House, our supplemental bill and we are leading the country.”

The centrist New Democrat Coalition announced Wednesday that it also would whip its members to support the measure, categorizing the bill as a “key vote.”

At press time Wednesday, the House Rules Committee was set to meet to establish the parameters of the debate, but Democratic sources said it is unlikely that amendments would be allowed to the spending bill, allowing Republicans only a standard motion to recommit.

Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said earlier Wednesday that no decision had been made, however, she added: “This is one of the most important votes we’ve ever cast and I’d like it to be as clean as possible.”

In a letter addressed to the Speaker, House Republicans called for an open rule on the bill, which would allow amendments, as well as an extended debate.

“We believe that an open rule for consideration of the supplemental is the only way the House should debate this binding bill,” stated the letter, signed by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and others. “The war spending bill presents an appropriate opportunity for the Democratic leadership to fulfill its commitment by affording all Members the opportunity to amend the bill, and we hereby request that you do so. Furthermore, given that four days were devoted last month to the non-binding resolution on Iraq, we believe similar time should be made available for debate on this binding bill, which would set a mandatory timetable for surrender and withdrawal from Iraq.”

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