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House Iraq Bill Set for Passage

House Democrats are inching near unanimity on legislation scheduled for floor action today to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Members as ideologically diverse as anti-war liberal Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Southern conservative Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) both said Wednesday they were inclined to support the legislation, which Democratic leaders are confident will pass.

“I’m probably a ‘yes,’” Woolsey, co-chairwoman of the Out of Iraq Caucus, told reporters following a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the bill, sponsored by Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). The measure would upon passage begin troop redeployment within 120 days and require a complete withdrawal by April 1, 2008.

“It could be very close to” unanimous, Woolsey said.

“I’m leaning a ‘yes’ on this one,” Davis added, although he raised concerns that Democrats could appear to be politicizing the matter by forcing a vote before the administration’s scheduled July 15 interim report on Iraq was available. Davis said he would rather have the vote next week, but that appeared unlikely.

The legislation already has received a veto threat from the White House and similar previous efforts have failed, but Davis said the move is substantive regardless. “I think the merit comes in letting the American public know that we’re listening to them,” Davis said.

Not all Democrats are ready to call for withdrawal. Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), who has voted against similar efforts, said he was not likely to change his vote this time around. “I think the timelines have to be the president’s,” he said.

House Republican leaders are confident that GOP support for the bill will be minimal and unlikely to reach beyond the 17 lawmakers who voted with Democrats on an Iraq resolution earlier this year. Republicans will be allowed to offer an alternative on the floor, but they had not decided on a proposal as of press time.

While House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) provided a cringe-worthy moment at the weekly Conference meeting Wednesday by referring to Senate Republicans who recently have come out against the war as “wimps,” Republicans remain largely unified as well against the withdrawal plan.

According to lawmakers present, Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) chastised the Leader for his word choice; her home-state colleague, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), was the latest to denounce the war. “It was inartful, to say the least,” observed one lawmaker present who asked not to be named.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) criticized Democrats for not allowing amendments to be offered. Shays said he will vote against the bill, but could have been more malleable had he been allowed to offer an amendment to extend the April 1, 2008, withdrawal deadline to the end of 2008. “It’s just too soon,” Shays said, though he is not opposed to beginning redeployment. “I just think they need more time.”

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that at least two Republicans — Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.) and Wayne Gilchrest (Md.) — were expected to vote with Democrats. “There are a number of other Republicans giving consideration to it,” he said.

Republican moderates criticized the Democrats for not working with them and for holding a vote before formally receiving a July 15 update on the progress — or lack thereof — in Iraq.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a prominent moderate, complained the Democrats haven’t consulted them. “The problem is they haven’t come to us and said what is it going to take? … They are interested in scoring political points. Many of us want a change in policy, but they don’t want to engage us.”

Davis said legislation implementing the Iraq Study Group recommendations likely would pass with overwhelming bipartisan support, but said Democrats were beaten up by their base over the break and are trying to appease them. “I think this is all about their Caucus and their base,” he said.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said he’s waiting for the July 15 report and won’t go along with what he called a “stunt.”

“I would be surprised if they get a lot of Republicans to vote for it,” he said.

LaTourette, one of a group of Republicans who met recently with President Bush to express their concerns about Iraq, said that folks in his district “aren’t happy and they’d like to see us wrap it up sooner rather than later.” But he said he hasn’t seen much in the way of angry protests, despite traveling with Bush over the recess.

LaTourette said he’s inclined to wait until a September report from Gen. David Petraeus. “I’m inclined to give Gen. Petraeus the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

“It’s premature to judge the outcome of the surge when it’s only two weeks old,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

Across the Capitol, Iraq continues to dominate the floor as well. On Wednesday, Senators scrambled to craft amendments that could overcome the filibuster hurdle virtually every Iraq-related amendment faces as part of debate on the Defense authorization bill, and one more Republican Senator expressed an interest in voting for the Democrats’ signature amendment to force a partial withdrawal from Iraq.

Even as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) attempted to build support for their amendment to force a change in mission in Iraq without a timeline for withdrawal, Collins indicated she had not ruled out voting for a Democratic amendment to change the U.S. mission in Iraq and redeploy most troops out of Iraq by April 30, 2008. That amendment is sponsored by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

Collins said she was uncomfortable with the firm deadline but that the amendment would succeed in “dramatically changing and narrowing our troops mission in Iraq.”

And Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has pressured the White House to begin diplomatic efforts now throughout the Middle East to help bring stability in Iraq, said even Republicans who have not been outspoken about the war are clamoring for a change in course from the White House.

“There’s a sense among Republicans that they would love the president to announce he’s putting together a comprehensive plan that involves an exit strategy,” Voinovich said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) poured cold water on centrists’ attempts to forge a bipartisan agreement on implementing the last year’s bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations.

“It doesn’t even have the teeth of a toothless tiger,” Reid said at a press conference. “It won’t change one thing.”

The ISG amendment would make the diplomatic and military recommendations the official policy of the United States, but it would not force the drawdown of troops that Reid and other Democrats repeatedly have sought.

Still, the sponsors of the amendment, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), said their proposal was gaining momentum as a consensus position, even as the White House attempted to swat them down.

Though Alexander said there “is a growing tiredness about the casting of partisan votes” on Iraq, he acknowledged that White House officials have told him “they don’t want to go forward with the Iraq Study Group now.”

Because Republicans indicated they are likely to filibuster the Levin-Reed proposal, alternative proposals, such as Alexander-Salazar, are receiving increased scrutiny. GOP Sens. John Warner (Va.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.) said their proposed compromise amendment could be unveiled today.

Additionally, Reid relented to Republican demands for 60-vote thresholds on two amendments regarding troop rotations, following his failure earlier in the day to use procedural maneuvers to overcome a filibuster of a similarly themed Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) proposal.

Webb’s amendment to require mandatory rest periods for soldiers who come home from battle fell four votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture, or limit debate, and he subsequently withdrew it.

Wednesday evening, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on two amendments. One, sponsored by anti-war Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), would limit the amount of time enlisted troops could be deployed to one year but would not address rest periods.

The other failed measure, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would express the Sense of the Senate that troops receive longer rest periods.

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