The decision by Democratic leaders to cave in to President Bush’s demands for an Iraq funding bill without timetables for withdrawal or even meaningful troop readiness standards has angered some of the party’s most fervent supporters, who are warning they could mount primary challenges to Members who vote for the war measure.
With groups such as MoveOn.org and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq launching a full-court press to get Members to vote against the Iraq War supplemental, many Democrats — likely including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — will vote against the Iraq funding, although several indicated Wednesday that they would support war funding for now.
Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, slammed the deal as “just a blank check for an endless war. … MoveOn members are asking us to consider all options for Democratic Members of Congress who ran on ending the war but vote for more chaos and more troops in Iraq, including in-district advertising and recruitment of primary challengers.”
Americans Against Escalation in Iraq also urged a “no” vote, saying the group “will use the Congressional recess and the summer to turn the heat up on Members of Congress irrespective of party who continue to support the war — to make it so hot that they are forced to abandon Bush’s war once and for all.”
The House’s most fervent war opponents made it clear that they would vote against the bill and urged others to do so as well.
“It’s giving the president what he wants without holding him to account,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who had sponsored an amendment calling for an end to the war that received 171 votes. “Maybe we can pull off a miracle and defeat the goddamn thing.”
McGovern said the decision was clearly made by leadership that the White House would spend all of the Memorial Day recess trying to “spin and demagogue” the issue of war funding and that Bush in the end wouldn’t be willing to negotiate.
But McGovern sought to pin the blame on Republicans rather than his fellow Democrats.
“I think people who vote to fund this war need to be held accountable,” he said, but added of MoveOn, “I wish they would go after the Republicans because that’s where the problem is.”
McGovern said he does not see how someone could vote for his amendment to end the war and for the troop-funding amendment. “I guess if you are schizophrenic you can.”
“For people who have run against the war, they see this as the end of the rope,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus. “I feel let down that we’re still in Iraq. I’m going to continue to feel let down until we’re out of there.”
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) said he was wrestling with how to vote but said MoveOn’s attacks on Democrats weren’t helpful. “I would urge MoveOn and others to recognize that the person who is extending this war is George Bush. … The focus has got to be on electing a Democratic president,” he said. “If we elect a Democratic president, this war is over.”
Pariser said that wasn’t good enough: “Voters didn’t elect Democrats in 2006 to elect a Democratic president in 2008. They elected Democrats to end the war as they said they would.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), while not attacking MoveOn directly, appealed for unity.
“I hope however people vote on this issue, people need to understand Democrats have been united in wanting to change the direction in Iraq,” he said, blaming the “rubber-stamp Republicans” for voting with Bush.
Van Hollen said that it was important for Democrats to stay united because Republicans already are showing signs of cracking in their blanket support for the administration’s war policy. Van Hollen added that Democrats would spend the recess trying to make the point that Republicans are the reason why the war will continue, not Democrats.
Republicans made clear that they would support the bill provided that the language, due out after press time Wednesday, was what they have been expecting.
“You drop Murtha [troop readiness standards], you drop withdrawal, the troops win,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.).
The amendment would also include language setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet or risk losing some reconstruction aid, although Bush could waive the benchmarks. A second amendment on nearly $20 billion in spending add-ons — including billions for Hurricane Katrina relief, agriculture disaster aid, children’s health insurance, and veterans’ health care along with an increase in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour — was likely to get broad Democratic support.
The Iraq funding and the domestic package will be combined without a final roll call vote and sent to the Senate, where it is expected to be passed without changes.
MoveOn, meanwhile, came under some criticism itself from anti-war Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who pronounced their latest moves “too little, too late.” Kucinich criticized MoveOn for supporting earlier efforts to fund the war with restrictions, a position that he said allowed Democrats to cede leverage to Bush.
“We should have told the administration you’re not going to get another dime for the war,” Kucinich said. He said that by allowing themselves to get sucked into the argument that failing to fund the war somehow means failing to support the troops, “You could keep funding the war forever.”
Exiting a classified bipartisan briefing on Iraq, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she will vote against the military funding portion of the supplemental, although she had supported earlier versions of the bill.
She declined to provide specific details, noting the briefing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was classified.
“What I am certain about, this is just the beginning,” Schakowsky added. She said Members already have begun to look to the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill to pursue withdrawal timelines.
“There is a hard date and that date is November 2008,” Schakowsky said.
But Republican Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.), one of a handful of moderate GOPers who visited the White House earlier this month to warn that progress needs to be made in Iraq, suggested Thursday that the supplemental has shored up the president’s authority on the war.
“He’s still pretty strong on this issue and he’s worked his will,” said LaHood, who will support the war-funding bill although he has yet to determine whether he will back the domestic spending as well.
The Illinois lawmaker acknowledged, however, that Congress could force through new restrictions on the war in September, if expected reports do not show positive progress in Iraq.
“September is the biggest benchmark for the war and all of us,” LaHood said, noting that he hopes for a positive report. “Otherwise people are going to be looking at different options.”
Freshman Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said he’s willing to vote for the supplemental, as is, because he now sees that, “The president is absolutely willing to play brinkmanship with this.”
Walz said he had come to realize that exerting Congress’ power of the purse would not end the war and predicted that only about 70 of his fellow Democrats would vote for the war funding measure.
Jennifer Yachnin and Nicole Duran contributed to this report.