Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday the war in Iraq is "lost," triggering an angry backlash by Republicans, who said the top Democrat had turned his back on the troops. The bleak assessment - the most pointed yet from Reid - came as the House voted 215-199 to uphold legislation ordering troops out of Iraq next year.
Reid said he told President Bush on Wednesday he thought the war could not be won through military force, although he said the U.S. could still pursue political, economic and diplomatic means to bring peace to Iraq.
"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and - you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows - (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday," said Reid, D-Nev.
Politics of troop support
Republicans pounced on the comment as evidence, they said, that Democrats do not support the troops.
"I can't begin to imagine how our troops in the field, who are risking their lives every day, are going to react when they get back to base and hear that the Democrat leader of the United States Senate has declared the war is lost," said Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The exchange came before the House voted to endorse legislation it passed last month that would fund the war in Iraq but require combat missions to end by September 2008. The Senate passed similar, less-sweeping legislation that would set a nonbinding goal of bringing combat troops home by March 31, 2008.
"Our troops won the war clearly, cleanly and quickly," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "But now they are stuck in a civil war," and the only solution is a political and diplomatic compromise. "And there is no soldier who can get that done," he added.
The House voted mostly along party lines to insist congressional negotiators trying to reconcile the House and Senate bills retain the firm timetable.
Funding the war
Despite the vote, which was orchestrated by Republicans to try to embarrass Democrats, aides said Democrats were leaning toward accepting the Senate's nonbinding goal. The compromise bill also is expected to retain House provisions preventing military units from being worn out by excessive combat deployments; however, the president could waive these standards if he states so publicly.
Bush pledged to veto either measure and said troops were being harmed by Congress' failure to deliver the funds quickly.
The Pentagon says it has enough money to pay for the Iraq war through June. The Army is taking "prudent measures" aimed at ensuring that delays in the bill financing the war do not harm troop readiness, according to instructions sent to Army commanders and budget officials April 14.
While $70 billion that Congress provided in September for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has mostly run out, the Army has told department officials to slow the purchase of nonessential repair parts and other supplies, restrict the use of government charge cards and limit travel.
The Army also will delay contracts for facilities repair and environmental restoration, according to instructions from Army Comptroller Nelson Ford. He said the accounting moves are similar to those enacted last year when the Republican-led Congress did not deliver a war funding bill to Bush until mid-June.
More stringent steps would be taken in May, such as a hiring freeze and firing temporary employees, but exceptions are made for any war-related activities or anything that "would result immediately in the degradation of readiness standards" for troops in Iraq or those slated for deployment.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the Democrats' stance "disturbing" and all but dared Reid to cut off funding for the war.
"If this is his true feeling, then it makes one wonder if he has the courage of his convictions and therefore will decide to de-fund the war," she said.
Reid has left that possibility open. The majority leader supports separate legislation that would cut off funding for combat missions after March 2008. The proposal would allow money to be spent on such efforts as counterterrorism and training Iraqi security forces.
Reid and other Democrats were initially reluctant to discuss such draconian measures to end the war, but no longer.
"I'm not sure much is impossible legislatively," Reid said Thursday. "The American people have indicated . . . that they are fed up with what's going on."
Funding with deadlines
In a bid for party unity, anti-war liberals in the House are reluctant to mount opposition to war spending legislation even if it does not set a firm date for troop withdrawal.
Their support would pave the way for Democratic leaders next week to send President Bush a bill that would fund the Iraq war and still call for troops to leave by March 31, 2008, albeit a nonbinding withdrawal date.
The measure would be weaker than House Democrats wanted but is advocated by the Senate, where Democrats hold a slimmer majority and many party members oppose setting a firm timetable on the war.
Rather than let the bill sink, "we want to get it to the president and let him veto it," said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., a party liberal who opposes funding the war at all.
Bush has promised to veto any bill that sets a timetable on the Iraq war, contending that decisions on troop deployments must be left to the commander in chief and military commanders on the ground. His position raises the bigger question of what Democrats will do after the veto.
The quiet support of a House-Senate compromise among the rank-and-file represents a new tack by Democrats who say they want to pull together in their fight against Bush on the war.
Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, a freshman Democrat who represents a district strongly opposed to the war, said lending his support to a bill that funds the war without setting a firm end date will be difficult. On the other hand, he added, Democrats might be in a tougher spot if they can't pull the caucus together long enough to act against Bush.
"We have to look at the political realities of being the party that's in control, and prove to the American people we can govern," he said.
Last month, Watson was one of several liberal Democrats who threatened to block passage of the House bill because she did not think the measure went far enough to end the war. Watson and California Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters said they refused to fund the war and wanted language that would end combat before the end of 2007.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an aggressive whip operation to persuade members the bill was their best shot at trying to force Bush to abandon his Iraq policy. Eventually, the group said they would help round up support for the bill despite their intention to personally vote against it.
The bill passed narrowly, mostly along party lines, in a 218-212 vote. House appropriators are now trying to negotiate a final bill that could be sent to the president by next week.
Non-binding goal compromise
With Senate leaders nervous the final bill would fail if it included a firm deadline, aides said Democrats were leaning toward accepting the Senate's nonbinding goal. The compromise bill also is expected to retain House provisions preventing military units from being worn out by excessive combat deployments; however, the president could waive these standards if he states so publicly.
On Thursday, Pelosi, D-Calif., summoned Woolsey, Lee, Waters and several other of the party's more liberals members to her office to discuss the issue. According to aides and members, concerns were expressed but there were no loud objections to a conference bill that would adopt the Senate's nonbinding goal.
Watson said she would personally oppose the final bill, as she did last month, but would not stand in Pelosi's way if the speaker agrees to the Senate version.
"It's still a timeline," she said. "We're not backing down from that."