Senate GOP Turns Back Iraq Pullout Plan

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 6:34 PM

The Senate today rejected a binding Democratic-sponsored resolution that would have set a target date a little more than a year from now for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Senators then approved by large margins two nonbinding resolutions that express support for the troops.

The withdrawal resolution, which under a Senate agreement needed 60 votes to pass, failed to win even a majority, with 48 senators voting in favor of it and 50 against it. The White House had threatened a veto if such a binding measure reached President Bush's desk.

The vote came hours after the House Appropriations Committee approved a plan to withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of August 2008. The provision was part of a $124 billion emergency spending bill that includes $95.5 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. More than 140,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Iraq, and the Bush administration plans to send in thousands more to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and battle insurgents and foreign fighters in the western province of Anbar.

The vote followed a sometimes heated debate that started yesterday when the withdrawal resolution overcame a procedural hurdle and Republicans agreed to allow it to move to the Senate floor. Republican senators warned in the debate that a U.S. "retreat" from Iraq would have disastrous consequences, while Democrats argued that Washington cannot save Iraqis from themselves and must use a withdrawal deadline to apply more pressure on factional leaders to compromise with each other.

Two Democrats, Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), and independent Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) joined Republicans in voting against the Democratic withdrawal plan. One Republican, Gordon Smith (Ore.), sided with most Democrats in supporting it. Two senators -- Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who is ill, and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was campaigning today in Iowa -- did not vote.

After defeating the resolution, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), senators overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that calls for ensuring the safety of U.S. troops by providing the necessary funding, training and equipment. It also states an obligation to ensure medical care for returning troops and veterans.

The resolution passed 96 to 2. Two Republican senators, Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), voted against it.

The Senate then took up a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that prohibits cuts in funding for U.S. troops in the field. It was approved82-16.

Murray said of her resolution, "We want to make sure we go on record that we support our troops from the time they go to battle until the time they come home." She added in a floor speech, "Support of our troops extends far beyond their mission in the field" and should continue when service members wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other facilities.

Gregg said his resolution bars Congress from taking "any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field," including the elimination or reduction of funds for those troops.

"If you support the troops, you've got to support this amendment," he said before the vote. "In fact, if you supported the Murray amendment, you have to support this amendment unless you changed your mind in the last 30 seconds."

White House spokesman Tony Snow warned before the Senate votes that the Reid resolution "would pull the rug out from under the Iraqi people by trying to set artificial deadlines when it comes to U.S. military commitments." He told reporters, "If that bill comes before the president, he will veto it."

The resolution called on Bush to begin the "phased redeployment" of U.S. combat troops from Iraq within four months from the date of enactment with the goal of withdrawing all but a "limited number" by March 31, 2008. It said U.S. troops remaining in Iraq would have the mission of protecting U.S. and coalition personnel and infrastructure, training and equipping Iraqi forces and conducting "targeted counterterrorism operations."

The resolution was co-sponsored by 40 other Democrats and one independent. Among the co-sponsors were Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

The resolution was weaker than a House proposal that imposes deadlines for the Iraqi government to meet military, economic and political benchmarks and requires all U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn by the end of August 2008. But the Senate measure was stronger than previous nonbinding resolutions that expressed disapproval of Bush's Iraq war policy.

It noted that the circumstances referred to in a 2002 congressional authorization for the use of force in Iraq "have changed substantially" and said U.S. troops "should not be policing a civil war." It also declare that the conflict in Iraq "requires principally a political solution." Accordingly, it said, U.S. policy on Iraq "must change to emphasize the need for a political solution by Iraqi leaders" and to fight the war on terrorism more effectively.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company