In a direct challenge to President Bush,
the House of Representatives has, on a roughly party line vote of 218 to
212, called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than the
end of August 2008. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the
president has condemned the House action, and reiterated a veto
Democrats succeeded in passing a measure that ties funding needed to
support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with requirements to limit the
duration of their deployments, and force President Bush to certify the
readiness of military units.
The beginning of a withdrawal period would be triggered, if the
president cannot certify to Congress at two key points this year, that the
Iraqi government is satisfactorily reaching political, economic and
During the debate, the Democratic appropriations chairman, David Obey,
asserted that, wording, timelines and benchmarks aside, the primary
significance is Congress' determination to exert some control over the
president's Iraq policy.
"What is important in the document today is not the exact wording. What
is important is not the exact timetable.What is important is not the
enumeration of these benchmarks.What is important is that, for the
first time, this Congress will be exercising its constitutional
responsibilities to provide real oversight on the executive branch of
government, and we will be trying to set this country on a new direction,"
Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam War veteran, referred to U.S. troops
killed and wounded in Iraq, and money in the bill for military health
care, saying Iraqi leaders must be held to commitments to shoulder more of
"When you see 3,000 [U.S. troops] that have been killed, or 25,000 that
have been wounded, it is individuals that have been wounded, individuals
that have been killed, and those families are suffering. They [Iraqis]
have a civil war. We have to put benchmarks in this bill, so the Iraqis
start to do it themselves, and the Americans aren't forced to make up the
difference and do it themselves."
Democratic leaders were generally successful in persuading most
outspoken anti-war Democrats to support the bill, even though it gives a
longer timetable for withdrawal than they wanted.
Only 14 crossed party lines to oppose their leadership, while only two
Republicans voted for the bill.
Republican minority leader John Boehner made a final appeal against the
"Who doesn't believe that if we go down this path, we are going to
leave chaos and genocide in Iraq, and we are going to tell our enemies all
around the world that you can take on the United States, you can push them
to the edge, and, at the end of the day, they will just go home?" he
Both sides also turned to war veterans to make their case.
"Internationally announcing our timelines for withdrawal literally
hands the enemy our war plan, and gives them hope that they will win, if
they just wait it out," said Sam Johnson is a Texas Republican. "What
world superpower would do such a thing?"
Pennsylvania Congressman and Iraq war veteran Patrick Murphy delivered
emotional remarks for Democrats:
"In the last four years the Republican Congress followed this
president, as thousands of brave American soldiers returned home in
coffins with our American flag," he said. "Nineteen of those coffins had
American soldiers I served with in Iraq, 19 paratroopers."
After the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters.
"It [Congress] voted 'no' to giving a blank check to an open-ended
commitment to war without end to the President of the United States, and
'yes' to begin the end of the war and the redeployment of our troops," she
The Senate, which Democrats narrowly control, may begin debate next
week on a measure containing about $3 billion less than the House version,
with a non-binding call for a U.S. withdrawal by March 2008.
But any legislation containing a timetable or other conditions faces a
veto threat from President Bush, who condemned the House action as, in his
words, "an act of political theater."
"Amid the real challenges in
Iraq, we're beginning to see some signs of progress," said Mr. Bush. "Yet,
to score political points, the Democratic majority in the House has shown
it is willing to undermine the gains our troops are making on the ground."
At this point, House Speaker Pelosi declines to say what strategy House
Democrats will take in negotiations with the Senate, should a bill pass
there, to reconcile differences to avert a veto.
House Republicans assert Democrats will ultimately be forced to accept
a clean bill, without troop readiness requirements or withdrawal
timetables that the president will accept.