Saturday, May 19, 2007

"House Dem Staffer: Liberals Are Worried That Leadership Will Cave On Iraq"

Greg Sargent:
Today the White House said No to all of Dems' offered concessions on Iraq, effectively telling the Dem Congressional leadership to take its "surrender date" and shove it deep into its posterior. So now what?
A Democratic leadership aide tells us that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Dem Rep. David Obey will be talking through the weekend to game out the next steps. Further talks with the White House are unlikely, at least this weekend, the aide says. So what do we make of the current political challenge facing Dems?

We checked in with a liberal House Dem staffer who is a sharp observer of Hill politics, and he gave us a surprisingly candid -- and dispiriting -- overview of the political situation. More after the jump.

Here's the situation in a nutshell, as best as we understand it. The White House says it simply won't accept any sort of timetable, even a waivable one. It says it won't accept any kind of benchmarks for progress in Iraq if there are any consequences for not meeting them. So aside from sending the bill back there are only two apparent possibilities left: Either the White House gives on one of these points. Or the Dem Congressional leadership caves and produces a bill funding the war until, say, September, with some sort of benchmarks but no accountability -- in other words, something that's effectively meaningless.

According to our Hill staffer, some liberals are beginning to fear that it will ultimately be the latter. They are persuaded that the Dem leadership will ultimately back down in hopes that other future legislative routes will prove more fertile.

"If this is what they go with, it begs the question, Why did we go through this whole exercise with the first supplemental and everything else?" our staffer asks. "What did we really accomplish?"

Worse, he says, aside from the fact that the benchmarks-with-no-accountability measure would be a substantive failure, it also contains a serious political pitfall. If the final compromise has (meaningless) benchmarks that the White House initially opposed, the possibility is that Republicans in Congress, by supporting such a measure, would be the ones perceived as having been the bridge of compromise between Congressional Dems and Bush.

"If the Republicans come across as brokering this deal, not only have we gained nothing, but they will have gained a lot," he says. "The Republicans will be the ones perceived to have brought Bush back into line. This is certainly not a gift we want to give them."

What about sending the same bill back to the President? According to our staffer, the perceived problem here is that House Dems have loudly proclaimed that a measure to fund the troops will have been created by Memorial Day. Recent polls suggest that Dems haven't done a good enough job explaining to the public that the Presidential veto -- not Congress -- is what's to blame for the lack of troop funding. So a repeat of the veto scenario is thus seeen as politically very risky, our staffer says.

"The storyline in the media would then be, `Dems fail to meet their own set deadlines, Dems in disarray,'" the staffer says. (Of course, sending the same bill back doesn't appear to be under consideration by the leadership in any case.)

So barring a situation where the standoff continues past Memorial Day, something Dems seem hell bent on avoiding, that leaves just options (a) and (b) above: Either the White House gives, or Dems cave. And some libs, at least, worry that it'll be (b). On the other hand, the Dem leadership insists it's committed to not giving Bush a blank check, and it has consistently hung much tougher than anyone expected and has steadily defied expectations in the process. So anything, of course, can happen.

Look, the whole process thus far in some ways has been very good for liberals. There have been straight up-or-down votes on ending the war in both the House and Senate. Progressives have gradually strengthened their hands in Congress.

But let's face it: The future -- the short term one, at least -- is looking uncertain at best. We'll know soon enough.
Howie P.S.: There is one word missing from the headline: "Again."

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