Pelosi Backs War Funds Only With Conditions

By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 16, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday linked her support for President Bush's war-funding request to strict standards of resting, training and equipping combat forces, a move that could curtail troop deployments and alter the course of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

The pledge came as Congress appears ready to assert its authority in matters of war and diplomacy, down to decisions that the White House believes to be the domain solely of the president as commander in chief: the deployment and training of military forces.

The House is to vote today on a nonbinding resolution disapproving of Bush's decision to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. Also, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced a rare Saturday vote to begin debate on the House resolution.

Congressional Democrats signaled a willingness to directly challenge and curtail Bush's warmaking powers, a move that will almost certainly spark a legal or constitutional confrontation. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a Pelosi ally, is rewriting the president's spending request to limit Bush's options in prosecuting the war, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he will seek to repeal the 2002 congressional authorization for Bush to wage war in Iraq and substitute legislation that would narrow the mission of troops there and begin to bring some home.

"If we are going to support our troops, we should respect what is considered reasonable for them: their training, their equipment and their time at home," Pelosi said in an interview with a small group of reporters. "What we're trying to say to the president is, you can't send people in who are not trained for urban warfare . . . who are not prepared to contend with an insurgency."

The Democrats' move is likely to test the party's unity in the coming weeks, as anxious moderates clash with liberals pushing for an even more dramatic confrontation.

Pelosi was careful to say no final decisions have been made on binding legislation. But she backed key provisions already floated by Murtha, including requirements that troops be given at least a year's rest between combat deployments, special training in urban warfare and counterinsurgency, and safety equipment that the military has struggled to provide.

The speaker backed Murtha's plan to eliminate funding for the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where a prisoner-abuse scandal badly tarnished the U.S. image in the region and the world. She also strongly endorsed binding legislation requiring Bush to seek congressional authorization before any military strike on Iran.

"Congress should assert itself . . . and make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president, any president, any president to go into Iran," she said.

Biden, a declared candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said his legislative proposal would authorize the limited use of force in Iraq only as part of a withdrawal plan.

"Congress should make clear what the mission of our troops is: to responsibly draw down, while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis and respond to emergencies," he said. "We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war."

Calling Bush's proposed troop increase "a tragic mistake," Biden said: "Opposing the surge is only the first step. We need a radical change in course in Iraq. If the president won't act, Congress will have to attempt to do so. But Congress must act responsibly. We must resist the temptation to push for changes that sound good but may very well produce bad results."

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