WASHINGTON - A sharply divided House brushed aside a veto threat Wednesday
and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing
troops from Iraq by Oct. 1.
The 218-208 vote came as the top
UScommander in Iraq told lawmakers the country remained gripped by violence but
was showing some signs of improvement.
In this video framegrab taken from C-SPAN television, House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives
in Washington, Wednesday April 25, 2007, prior to a vote on the Iraq
spe nding bill. [AP]
Passage puts the bill on track to clear Congress by week's end and arrive on
the president's desk in coming days as the first binding congressional challenge
to Bush's handling of the conflict now in its fifth year.
"Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear
strategy for success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Republicans promised to stand squarely behind the president in rejecting what
they called a "surrender date" handed to the enemy.
"Al-Qaida will view this as the day the House of Representatives threw in the
towel," said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, ranking Republican on the House
The $124.2 billion bill would fund the war, among other things, but demand
troop withdrawals begin on Oct. 1 or sooner if the Iraqi government does not
meet certain standards. The bill sets a nonbinding goal of completing the troop
pull out by April 1, 2008, allowing for forces conducting certain noncombat
missions, such as attacking terrorist networks or training Iraqi forces, to
House and Senate appropriators agreed to the legislation earlier this week.
The Senate was expected to clear the measure Thursday, sending it to the
While Bush was confident the bill would ultimately fail because Democrats
lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, he kept up pressure on
lawmakers. On the same day as the House vote, the president dispatched his Iraq
commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and other senior defense officials to Capitol
Hill to make his case: Additional forces recently sent to Iraq are yielding
mixed results and the strategy needs more time to work.
Petraeus told reporters sectarian killings in Baghdad were only a third of
what they were in January, before Bush began sending in additional USforces. He
added that progress in the troubled western Anbar province was "breathtaking,"
and that he thought Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was "doing his best" at
leading the country.
But "the ability of al-Qaida to conduct horrific, sensational attacks
obviously has represented a setback and is an area in which we're focusing
considerable attention," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said he would not touch on the "minefield of discussions about
various legislative proposals," but he noted that the new strategy in Iraq was
just beginning. He said he planned to provide more details in early September.
Petraeus briefed his findings to lawmakers in a private room, where
protesters outside chanted "Troops home now!" Republicans and Democrats alike
emerged to say Petraeus had only confirmed their positions.
"This briefing reinforced our view that the solution in Iraq is a political
solution," Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. Also confirmed, he said, was "our
belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress."
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said Petraeus
acknowledged there were challenges. "But considering where we are, I think the
general feels good about the progress thus far," Boehner said.
Bush said he stands firm on his latest strategy for winning the war and
dismisses as counterproductive the Democratic call for withdrawal.
"That means our commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take
fighting directions from legislators 6,000 miles away on Capitol Hill," Bush
said this week. "The result would be a marked advantage for our enemies and a
greater danger for our troops."
Petraeus' comments Wednesday put a finer point on when the much-awaited
decision about the length of the UStroop buildup may come, saying he will make
an assessment of the conditions in Iraq in early September, and report back to
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders.
Gates has said he expects the assessment this summer, but this is the first
time military leaders said it would not be until September.