WASHINGTON — Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a message Tuesday for voters who elected a Democratic Congress last month hoping it would force President Bush to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.
“We will not cut off funding for the troops,” Pelosi said. “Absolutely not,” she said.
A reporter had asked Pelosi if the new Democratic-controlled Congress would vote to end the funding of the war if Democrats were unable to persuade President Bush to change his Iraq strategy.
“Let me remove all doubt in anyone’s mind; as long as our troops are in harm’s way, Democrats will be there to support them, but… we will have oversight over that funding,” she said.
She spoke to reporters as she took a break from a briefing Democratic House members were getting from former Clinton administration official Richard Holbrooke and other foreign policy veterans.
“None of us want to fail; none of us want to see Iraq as a failure,” said incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
A political risk for 2008?
Is there a danger that Pelosi and Hoyer will disappoint voters who’ve just elected the new Congress, expecting it would take steps to end the war?
Yes — there’s a big danger, said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D- Ohio and other Democrats who oppose the war.
Kucinich said the Democrats have only one way to end the war: vote against the $130 billion Iraq war supplemental spending bill that will be on the House floor in the spring.
“We vote it down,” Kucinich said, and Bush would be forced to end the war.
He indicated that he didn’t yet have the votes he’d need to defeat the spending bill, but “this is a work in progress.” The decision on the spending bill “absolutely is going to be the key vote,” Kucinich said.
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Addressing the newly elected Democratic House members, he said, “If new members came in here on the expectation that they’re going to help end the war, and then they vote to appropriate $130 billion, they might find difficulty going back home and explaining that. You can’t simultaneously say you oppose the war and then vote to fund it.”
In a memo he passed out to Democratic members, Kucinich said, “The voters will not forget who let them down” if Congress chooses to keep funding the war.
Is it the Democrats' war too?
“This war is not only the president’s,” he said. “This war belongs to Congress as well, to Democrats and Republican alike….”
He predicted that “Democrats will be held accountable in the 2008 primaries…. The war will not go away as an issue. The Democratic base will make sure of it.”
Another anti-war Democrat, Rep. Jim McGovern, D- Mass., said “I think we have two years to dramatically shift our policy in Iraq. If things two years from now are exactly the same as now, I don’t think voters are going to be forgiving.”
Meanwhile one newly elected Democrat is looking for a way to avoid having to vote on cutting off the money. “We better find another way to get this done other than cutting off funds,” said Nancy Boyda, a newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Kansas. “When President Bush said, ‘we’re not going to leave,’ I think he’s going to find a great deal of resistance by the American people.’”
Newly-elected House member Tim Walz from Minnesota said, “In my district I wasn’t hearing (during the campaign) an overall cry that the troops have to out by midnight tomorrow.” Instead he said voters want to see some plan on how to succeed in stabilizing Iraq.
Both Boyda and Walz will be high on GOP target lists in 2008: they each represent districts that supported Bush in 2004 and that had elected Republican House members for at least 10 years prior to 2006.
Imposing conditions on spending
The war spending bill “is going to be the turning point for a new direction,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D- Ill., the architect of the Democrats’ takeover of the House this November.
He said the bill will impose conditions which Bush will be forced to accept if he wants the money, such as a commission to investigate funds unaccounted for or allegedly wasted in Iraq.
To voters who’d be disappointed because they thought the new Congress would bring the troops home from Iraq, Emanuel gave a tentative answer: “From now on we are beginning to figure those questions out in the proper way.”
Meanwhile some Congressional Democrats expressed minimal expectations for the report which will be issued Wednesday morning by a panel headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton.
Said an exasperated McGovern: “I’m hearing the Baker-Hamilton report is going to call for more benchmarks and more training of Iraqi soldiers. Well, what the hell have we been doing for the last several years?”
Walz said, “I’m hearing now, ‘was there a compromise in the (Baker-Hamilton) commission for political reasons’? There should have been no compromise for politics; there should have been ‘what is the best plan to solve this?’ My fear is if the pullback of troops was either delayed or sped up based on politics, that that’s dangerous.”
He added, “I feared that that the Baker group would create this unreasonable expectation” that it would devise some solution no one had envisioned before. “How many great thinkers have been thinking about this for four years? And there’s no real good solution.”
While it might be better politically for the Democrats’ chances in the 2008 election if Iraq remains a continuing burden on Bush and the Republican, Kucinich’s argument is that voters will hold the Democratic congressional majority responsible for Iraq.
Attempts to shift blame?
But Democratic pollster Jeremy Rosner took the opposing view on responsibility for the war.
“Despite the war’s initial bipartisan authorization, Iraq belongs to George Bush,” Rosner wrote in a memo last week.
He was on the alert for any of what he saw as blame-shifting: “Democrats will still need to take care not to give Bush and his team any easy pretext for shifting responsibility for the outcome in Iraq.”
And Rosner warned against exactly the course Kucinich wants to take: Democrats, he said, “need to avoid pushing for funding cut-offs that could be cast as undermining the troops (and which would in any event merely be veto bait).”
For now, Pelosi is listening to Rosner and not Kucinich. And 2008 may determine who was right.
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