Monday, March 12, 2007

Democrats Drop Iran War Authority Provision

The Associated Press reports:
Top House Democrats retreated Monday from an attempt to limit President Bush's authority for taking military action against Iran as the leadership concentrated on a looming confrontation with the White House over the Iraq war.

Officials said Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the leadership had decided to strip from a major military spending bill a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats as well as lawmakers concerned about the possible impact on Israel had argued for the change in strategy.

The developments occurred as Democrats pointed toward an initial test vote in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday on the overall bill, which would require the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008, if not earlier. The measure provides nearly $100 billion to pay for fighting in two wars, and includes more money than the president requested for operations in Afghanistan and what Democrats called training and equipment shortages.

The White House has issued a veto threat against the bill, and Vice President Dick Cheney attacked its supporters in a speech, declaring they "are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."

House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio issued a statement that said Democrats shouldn't count on any help passing their legislation.

"Republicans will continue to stand united in this debate, and will oppose efforts by Democrats to undermine the ability of General Petraeus and our troops to achieve victory in the Global War on Terror," he said.

Top Democrats had a different perspective.

Pelosi issued a written statement that said the vice president's remarks prove that "the administration's answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement that America was less safe today because of the war. The president "must change course, and it's time for the Senate to demand he do it," he added.

The Iran-related proposal stemmed from a desire to make sure Bush did not launch an attack without going to Congress for approval, but drew opposition from numerous members of the rank and file in a series of closed-door sessions last week.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said in an interview there is widespread fear in Israel about Iran, which is believed to be seeking nuclear weapons and has expressed unremitting hostility about the Jewish state.

"It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran," she said of the now-abandoned provision.

Widespread fear in...Israel? Representative Berkley seems confused about who voted for her and whom she represents: She isn't a member of the Knesset, but a member of the United States Congress.

Whatever delusions Shelley Berkley is suffering from, apparently she's not the only one:
"I didn't think it was a very wise idea to take things off the table if you're trying to get people to modify their behavior and normalize it in a civilized way," said Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York.

Several officials said there was widespread opposition to the proposal at a closed-door meeting last week of conservative and moderate Democrats, who said they feared tying the hands of the administration when dealing with an unpredictable and potentially hostile regime in Tehran.

Public opinion has swung the way of Democrats on the issue of the war. More than six in 10 Americans think the conflict was a mistake — the largest number yet found in AP-Ipsos polling.

But Democrats have struggled to find a compromise that can satisfy both liberals who oppose any funding for the military effort and conservatives who do not want to unduly restrict the commander in chief.

"This supplemental should be about supporting the troops and providing what they need," said Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., on Monday upon returning from a trip to Iraq. Boren said he plans to oppose any legislation setting a clear deadline for troops to leave.

In his speech, Cheney chided lawmakers who are pressing for tougher action on Iran to oppose the president on the Iraq War.

"It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel's best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened," he said.

I think this story may just put the romance that the media has for reporting every few months that "Cheney is losing influence with Bush" to rest once and for all.

Cheney's got 'em (our Democratic representatives in Congress) right where he wants 'em. And unless we replace the dead wood Democrats in the 2008 elections (along with Republicans) we're going to be in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Iran (and probably Syria, too, before long) for years and years and years to come.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES - A little firewall problem, YouTube tells me. I'm working on it now, and hope to have it fixed shortly. In the meantime, this is a transcript of the video, Chris Matthews interview with Tina Roberts, activist and mother of a U.S. soldier about to return to Iraq for a third tour of duty:

MATTHEWS: Tempers flared during an argument between House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey of Wisconsin and a woman whose son is a Marine. It was all caught on videotape. Here‘s an excerpt of what happened outside the congressman‘s Capitol Hill office.



(INAUDIBLE) understand (INAUDIBLE) difference between defunding the troops and ending the war. I hate the war. I voted against it to start with. I was the first guy in Congress to call for Rumsfeld‘s resignation. But we don‘t have the votes to defund the war, and we shouldn‘t because that also means defunding everything (INAUDIBLE) guys who are victims of the war.


MATTHEWS: Well, Tina Richards of Grassroots America is the woman in that videotape, as you can see, and she‘s right here with us this evening. Thank you for coming on. You‘ve earned your spurs. You took on David Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. What did you make of his response to your concern about ending the war?

TINA RICHARDS, GRASSROOTS AMERICA: Well, one thing that I found is that there‘s a lot of frustration on Capitol Hill about how to end the war in Iraq. The one thing that I‘ve heard that really concerns me, though, since I‘ve started from January 29, when I found out my son was being recalled by the Marine mobilization unit to be possibly redeployed for his third tour in Iraq, was that the staffers and aides—when I hear them talking, I listen in to what they‘re saying and I overhear them. They seem to be more concerned about what is going to guarantee a presidential election and an expanse of their majority than they are about the lives that are being lost every day over in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: How do you figure that out? I mean, that‘s a legitimate concern, obviously, that they‘re playing politics. But how can you tell? There‘s Obey. He said—I watched that tape two or three times (INAUDIBLE) out there and he said he voted against the resolution for war back in 2002. He said he‘s trying to pass a supplemental appropriation with language in it which cuts off this war next year sometime. What do you make of his position? Do you think he‘s not telling the truth or what?

RICHARDS: No. There are some really sincere people on that Hill. That I do not doubt. John Murtha—I met with him for over an hour. He is the most sincere man. We really disagree on how we‘re going to get out of Iraq, but he is absolutely very sincere. Lynn Woolsey (ph), Jan Schakowsky (ph) -- I could name...

MATTHEWS: What‘s your position on...

RICHARDS: ... John Conyers...

MATTHEWS: ... how we should get out?

RICHARDS: Well, truly, when it goes back, that the power of the purse is what Congress has. That is the one thing that they do have, is to stop the funding for the war. I was listening to hearings...

MATTHEWS: That means cutting off the money, period.

RICHARDS: That means cutting off the money, which the generals have testified on the Hill, which—I‘ve been personally at those hearings where they said that they would have to reduce forward combat operations.

It does not mean that our troops and our—will not have their armor or not have their bullets or not have their food. It means that they‘ll have to cease forward combat operations, which means that it will then start to we can start the withdrawal. And there‘s...

MATTHEWS: If you had a son in the field right now, would you want to hear that Congress had cut off some of the funding for the war?

RICHARDS: My son...

MATTHEWS: While he‘s in the field.

RICHARDS: My son may be in the field...

MATTHEWS: No, but if he‘s in that field, would you have the same point of view.

RICHARDS: Yes. Absolutely. My son—March 24, he has to report in, and he may very well be over there when this goes through. Yes, absolutely, I am saying that. We have to stop funding this war. I keep hearing politicians saying that they‘re against the war, that they originally voted against it, yet year after year, they will continue to fund this war, to...

MATTHEWS: You know why, though. Tell me why. Why do you think?

RICHARDS: I think a lot...

MATTHEWS: You‘re smart. You‘re lobbying this issue. Why do you think a guy like Obey—he said it to you. I heard him say that. I watched the tape two or three times. He said, We can‘t cut off the funding because if we cut off the funding, we will be accused of cutting off armor and equipment for the soldiers fighting in the field.

RICHARDS: Exactly. And then he says that we can‘t get the votes. Yet you have the leadership of the Democratic Party, you have Nancy Pelosi, you have Steny Hoyer, you have Chris Van Holland (ph) all saying that, We can‘t get the votes, and then they use the Republican talking points as to what is happening if they do stop the funding. And it makes no sense. If they...

MATTHEWS: Well, they‘re saying two things. They‘re saying they don‘t have the 218 to pass the majority, and then they‘re saying, But if we do pass the majority, they‘ll kill us politically by saying, They‘ve cut off reinforcements to our troops in the field. You know that‘s what they‘re going to say.

RICHARDS: You know what? Yes. And I understand that the Republican talking points are exactly that. And the point is, is that our sons and daughters are dying over there every day. By the tens of thousands they‘re coming back, and they‘re not getting their treatment. The VA has been horrible towards the treatment of my son. You saw Walter Reed recently...

MATTHEWS: Obey said that they put an extra billion in, in this appropriation, the supplemental, to make sure the medical treatment of people like your son is better. He says you have to fund this military in order to get better treatment for the wounded. What do you make of that?

RICHARDS: Well, the point is, is that they said that—the generals have testified that they‘ll have to reduce their forward combat operations, and that‘s what‘s going to change if they don‘t do the supplemental. The extra money is something that they can appropriate through this next coming budget or appropriate from somewhere else, but I just don‘t see that as an alternative to justify...


MATTHEWS: How do you think...

RICHARDS: ... justify maybe treating a few soldiers better, but at the same time, they‘re going to have three soldiers a day dying over in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: How do we—how do you achieve your goal of ending this war in Iraq? How do you do it?

RICHARDS: There is the Lee amendment that asked for the fully funded withdrawal of the troops, which Obey had responded as a dismissal, not even to consider it, that I didn‘t know what I was talking about, without even looking...


MATTHEWS: ... Barbara Lee of Oakland and Berkeley, yes.

RICHARDS: Yes. And he didn‘t even want to discuss that. And that was partly why I‘ve been on the Hill every single day...

MATTHEWS: But how many votes...

RICHARDS: ... trying to lobby Congress.

MATTHEWS: ... do you think Barbara Lee‘s proposal would do, where it says, We‘ll spend enough money to bring the troops home but not to keep them there? How many votes do you think that would get in the Congress?

RICHARDS: I think that if Nancy Pelosi...


RICHARDS: ... and Steny Hoyer and the Democrat leadership stopped exerting pressure to hush everybody that is coming out against it and started to support it, I think that they would have the votes to pass it.

MATTHEWS: But they don‘t think so.

RICHARDS: Because they‘re not trying. They‘re using the Republican talking points. As long as they‘re using the Republican talking points...

MATTHEWS: Are you saying that they‘re really for the war?

RICHARDS: I‘m saying that they‘re trying to do what‘s politically savvy and not what‘s best for our troops.

MATTHEWS: How do you think they can actually get the 218 votes that are necessary to pass a majority and cut off the money?

RICHARDS: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: They say they can‘t find those votes. I heard Obey yelling at you. He got overwrought there. You got him excited.

RICHARDS: I was hearing that, and then...

MATTHEWS: And he was saying, We just—I don‘t have a magic wand. He opened up his coat like this, he says, I don‘t have a magic wand in here. Where‘s my 218 votes? Could you help him do it? Would you have—do you have enough power in your group, or anybody in the anti-war forces, to get 218 Democrats to end this war?

MATTHEWS: I‘m just one person. I‘m a mother.

MATTHEWS: I know. You got...

RICHARDS: And I spoke with Reverend Nearwood (ph) the other day, and he said the power of a mother‘s love can bring down nations.

MATTHEWS: But can it get 218 votes in the House of Representatives?

RICHARDS: I think if Nancy Pelosi would actually start listening to the people and to the public—I mean, the nation has been against this war. The nation did not vote for a new direction, the nation voted for us to get out of Iraq. And they need to catch up with what the American public wants, which is to get us out of Iraq, to get our soldiers out of the middle of a civil war. There is no “winning” something when you‘re in a civil war, in an occupation.

We won the war. We won the war back in the very first few months of the war. It‘s time to take our sons and daughters out of Iraq and return them home. And if they start working together, instead of using their leadership powers to hush everybody and to quiet the anti-war and started working with us and figuring out a way, they would have the votes.

MATTHEWS: Good luck.

RICHARDS: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: I think you‘re going to need it, though. Thank you very much, Tina Richards, fighting very much against this war in Iraq.
If Democrats can't do it, can't get legislation through Congress to end the war in Iraq now when they have a certain majority, they won't do it later when they have either won the White House in 2008 and more seats in Congress, or they haven't won the White House and more seats.

In the case of the former, if they aren't taking the chance now, why would they after having failed to deliver on the mandate they got from the 2006 elections (to end the Iraq war)? And if it's the latter (if they lose control over Congress and fail to take the White House), they won't get the opportunity to end the war - Republicans will control business on the floor of both houses, they'll keep the war going and clamp down further on any dissent and opposition to their money-making (for them, the Halliburton class) cash-cow.

This is the time to shut this war operation down, turn our attention to Afghanistan and push a sane foreign policy that treats all people equitably and distributes the wealth.

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