Friday, July 13, 2007

"Washington's House Democrats vote for pullout"

Seattle P-I:
Embracing national frustration rather than President Bush's plea for patience, Washington state's House Democrats joined their party members in declaring the strategy in Iraq unworkable.

All six House Democrats from Washington voted yes on a 223-201 party-line vote for legislation that would require U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq within 120 days after the measure becomes law. The state's three Republicans opposed the bill.
The vote came only hours after the White House released an interim report detailing unsatisfactory results by Baghdad to reconcile political differences and improve security.

"If the president can find progress in this report, he has a different set of standards than I do," Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said, echoing a theme voiced by many Democrats during the daylong debate.

The showdown in the House was the first of a series of Iraq-related votes Democratic leaders have planned to put pressure on Bush and Republicans to change what they insist is a doomed course in Iraq. The goal, they say, is that continued dark news from Iraq along with pressure from the approaching 2008 election campaign will begin to break down Republican opposition.

On Wednesday, McDermott was even more blunt in a speech from the House floor. "There is no credibility left in this administration. None," he said. "This White House cannot whitewash the truth any longer. The American people are exasperated by a commander in chief who is blind to what's happening in Iraq. U.S. soldiers have not failed, but this president has. U.S. commanders have not failed, but this administration has."

On that point the public seems to agree. Only 23 percent of people contacted in a July 2 poll by CBS News approved of the job Bush was doing in Iraq.

Republicans dismissed the House measure as a political ploy that would take authority from military commanders for decisions about troop levels and priorities. They also said that it's too early to form hard judgments about the success or failure of Bush's "surge" strategy, which put about 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq.

"We have to allow the professionals to do their job," Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said, referring to the commanders.

Reichert joined Washington's two other Republican House members, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in voting against setting a withdrawal deadline.

Reichert said he would be willing to defy the White House if he determines the surge policy is flawed. That point has not arrived, he said, adding that he would like to see quicker progress. "A majority of Americans want to see this war end. I'm one of them."

The House debate, however, was defined by its sharp edges.

Few Democrats were as outspoken as McDermott, but virtually all agree with the need to change course.

"We need to move forward with responsible redeployment, which would focus U.S. military efforts on missions such as fighting al-Qaida, training Iraqi security forces and protecting Iraq's borders," said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. "What we're doing in Iraq is interfering with fighting terrorists and interfering with the readiness of our military."

"After five years America has fulfilled its moral responsibility to Iraq," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who, like Larsen, voted in 2002 against giving Bush authority to go to war and who has been a persistent critic of the Bush policy ever since.

Congress, he said, "needs to reign in Bush's incompetence. We are moving the bill, but I would like to do it much faster."

In a news conference Thursday, however, Bush dismissed complaints that Iraq was stalled in a deadly and expensive stalemate.

With work in the House completed, attention turns to the Senate, where a similar withdrawal measure is being debated. Unlike the House, which passed its bill, Democratic leaders in the Senate conceded they do not have the 60 votes necessary to kill a Republican filibuster, which prevents senators from voting on a measure.

But fissures are developing.

Three Senate Republicans have already said they intend to vote for a separate withdrawal measure, and several others have signed on as supporters of a bipartisan bill to implement a series of changes recommended last winter by the Iraqi Study Group.

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, say they will vote for the withdrawal measure.

"I want a time frame because I think it's time for them (the Iraqis) to stand on their own. It's past time," Cantwell said.

Neither Congress nor the country can wait for Bush to change, Murray said. "His stubbornness to recognize what is crumbling around him increases the necessity to put pressure on him," she said.

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