Thursday, April 10, 2008
SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm going to say a few words. We'll hear then from the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. We'll hear from Jon Soltz, chairman and co-founder, VoteVets organization; of course Iraq war veteran. And then we'll hear from Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, someone who's been involved in American politics since he got home from Vietnam.
This week's hearings gave the Bush administration a chance to answer two very important questions. Has the war made us any safer? Are our troops any closer to coming home? On both counts, after the hearings, the answer is no.
We're in the sixth year of this war. Our troops remain in this endless, endless, intractable civil war. Our military is badly strained -- and that's an understatement. We're unable to respond to threats around the world.
Further, American taxpayers are paying $5,000 a second for this war -- $5,000 a second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every -- every week of the month, no holidays, no weekends, $5,000 a second, $12 billion a month.
Today's announcement by the president can only be described as one step forward and two back. After a year, the administration is finally heeding the call of Congressional Democrats: Let's limit the time that our troops serve in Iraq to the same time they serve at home.
They've defeated us on this. We've offered amendments. The president and the Republicans in Congress have turned us down.
If the president is genuine about providing our troops with the rest, recuperation and training they need, then I call upon him and his allies in Congress to allow us to codify this, make it the law of this country.
We're going to have a vote in the Senate on dwell time. It's important that people stand up, not for something vague and abstract, but something that is black and white: If you're in Iraq or Afghanistan for 12 months, then you have to be home at least 12 months.
The president still doesn't understand that America's limited resources cannot support this endless war that he's gotten us involved in. His announcement, while some look to as a great victory, is, I say, two steps backwards and one step forward.
REID: After the troops in this time that Petraeus said will be called home, July it will end, we will have more troops in Iraq than before the surge started; 8,000 to 10,000 more troops than before the surge started.
This is not a so-called troop withdrawal pause. With today's announcement, the president signaled to the American people that he has no intention of bringing home any more troops. Instead, he's leaving all the tough decisions to the only person that is going to have to make those tough decisions, the next president of the United States.
The president has a time line: January 20th of next year. Our troops also need a time line.
SPEAKERS: REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Thank you very much, Mr. Leader.
I want to join the leader in welcoming our special guests today, our friends from the veterans community, Bobby Muller, whom we've all worked over the years, whether it's eliminating land mines and speaking out for veterans.
Thank you, Bobby, for our leadership.
Jon Soltz, who has been very courageous in his statements of shining the light on troops on what is happening in Iraq.
We're also joined by Miguel Sapp (ph) and Brian McGoff (ph), who are Iraq vets.
I want to say to them how much we all appreciate their courage, their patriotism, and the sacrifice they were willing to make for our country.
In the military there's a saying, that when we're in battle, we don't leave any soldiers behind on the battlefield. We in Congress have said to our veterans, and when you come home, you will not be forgotten.
That's why I was very proud to join Leader Reid in putting forth the biggest increase in veterans' benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration.
That is how we honor our troops. That is how we support our troops.
The leader asked two questions. Are we safer? And when are we going to bring the troops home?
I'd like to elaborate on them. When we know that the real war on terror is in Afghanistan, how can we have that real effort, with a sustained effort in Iraq continuing?
And are we -- when are we going to bring the troops home?
This is a question we have been asking the president over and over again. I posed it in a letter to him this week, when I said, "Mr. President, in your speech, I want you to tell us, what are the conditions that would make the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq possible?"
What is the impact of this war on the readiness of our military, which our military leaders have rated as unacceptable?"
We need better answers from the president. Certainly, he sent General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to the Congress. We respect them for their service to our country.
But we need answers from the commander in chief. We need real answers from the commander in chief, from the president of the United States.
Leader Reid is correct. We have, over and over again, tried to send to the president's desk what is really the law, the guidelines of the Department of Defense, that the dwell time in deployment should not exceed the dwell time at home, and that should not exceed 15 months. And that's a lot to begin with.
PELOSI: I know others will address that issue, but I think it should not be lost on anyone that this suggestion the president is making now is long overdue and something the Republicans in Congress and the president of the United States have rejected over and over again.
The cost of this war is huge -- over 4,017 just in the last few days -- of our troops lost; tens of thousands of them injured, many of them -- thousands of them permanently.
The cost in our reputation in the world has been severely damaged. The cost in taxpayer dollars has been astronomical. And another question we have for the president is, when are the Iraqis going to use some of their budget surplus for their own reconstruction instead of continuing to take us deeper into debt to pay for that reconstruction?
The president has taken us into a failed war, he's taken us deeply into debt and he's taking -- that debt is taking us into recession. We need some answers from the president.
And that's why we want the president to manage this war better, answer the questions to the American people, and, again, I agree with Leader Reid -- he is just dragging this out so he can put it at the doorstep of the new president of the United States.
And may I add, if he doesn't change his economic policy, he will be leaving a failed war policy and a failed economy at the doorstep of that new president.
Today we have been joined from some of America's brave veterans. They believe that improving the situation in Iraq cannot wait for the next administration, and we agree.
PELOSI: It is time for this president to lead, and lead us in a new direction.
We're going to hear from Jon Soltz, is a familiar leader...
REID: Bobby's right here.
PELOSI: Is Bobby going to go first? REID: Bobby's first.
PELOSI: Forgive me, Bobby.
MULLER: No problem.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
This week has witnessed a stunning level of denial about what's going on. I suggest we ought not to focus on what's going on in the Middle East as much as we ought to focus on what's going on here.
Bottom line, we are effectively out of troops. The Army is effectively out of troops. End of conversation. The president made a totally bogus statement this morning. It is effectively meaningless.
You got half of the front line units in the Army already deployed on 15 month deployments. The majority of the units that are scheduled to deploy throughout this year are not regular Army anymore. We're going to the domestic unit. We're going to the National Guard. The majority are going to be National Guard units who already serve 12- month tours.
The majority of them, including the majority of the regular military, are going to be multiple deployments. We're not talking serving 12 months. We're serving 24 months or longer.
Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid last week distributed a report to the entire Congress that connected the dots and showed the most combat deployed units, in terms of their numbers of deployments, the amount of time between deployments, the length of those deployments, and coupled them with the casualty statistics. It is staggering. We devastated front line units.
Go look at the statistics.
BOBBY MULLER, PRESIDENT, VETERANS FOR AMERICA: The Army has effectively run out of troops. And all what the president said this morning will not apply to everybody that's out there. It'll apply prospectively, after August 1st, and again for the majority of the units that are going to deploy it means nothing.
Understand, we are effectively out of troops, period, end of conversation.
JON SOLTZ, CHAIRMAN AND CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG: Thank you, Bobby.
As Speaker Pelosi said and Senator Reid said, I'm Jon Soltz. I'm the chairman of VoteVets.org. We're the largest pro-military organization in the country of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Behind me is Miguel Sapp (ph), who just returned from Iraq. And on the other side is Brian McGoff (ph), who was wounded in Iraq in 2003.
I'm actually appalled at the president's speech today. As a member of the military who served in Iraq in 2003, I trusted everything that I was told from this administration.
For the president to stand up tonight and explain to the country that he's somehow going to lower troop levels from 15 months to 12 months, starting after August 1st, is a direct misrepresentation of the truth. It is a political dog and pony show.
This president does not -- if you deploy soldiers in August of 2008, he will not be around in August of 2009 to guarantee that they come home for 12 months.
VoteVets.org and its over 90 members lobbied, with the support of Senator Reid, last summer for the Webb-Hagel dwell time bill. This is a bill that would have guaranteed if you spent 12 months in Iraq, that you spend 12 months at home.
Miguel Sapp (ph) behind me was deployed back to Iraq within a 12- month time frame. What the president's talking about tonight does nothing to protect our troops to have just as much time at home as they have deployed.
I can only encourage that if the president is serious about supporting the troops, that he would tell the Republican members of the United States Senate, including Senator McCain, who led the opposition to the Webb-Hagel bill, to support that bill when it comes back up to the floor for a vote in the coming months.
SOLTZ: I'd just like to thank everyone, turn it back over to Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi. Thank you.
PELOSI: Thank you, Jon.
REID: Jon, thank you for all you do.
Bobby, you're such a good friend to us and especially the military in our country.
Nancy and I will be happy to take a couple of questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Leader and Speaker Pelosi, do you acknowledge any of the progress the general and the ambassador talked about and at least the possibility of some significant political reconciliation by the time of the...
REID: Well, I personally hope that there is some. But we've waited now going onto the sixth year for some political reconciliation, and what have we seen the last few weeks? More unrest, more tension between Shiite groups, the Sunnis are coming back into power again -- that's what we've seen.
It was just a short time ago that we looked with dismay at the fact that we had 4,000 troops that had been killed in Iraq. Now it's approaching 4,020. In a period of 48 hours, we lost 12 American troops.
So I have the greatest admiration and respect for General Petraeus. His obligation is do the best he can with what he has in Iraq.
But we as a country have more than Iraq to be concerned about, and that's what Bobby Muller was talking about. We have Afghanistan, which is going the wrong way, we have other problems around the world that could crop up overnight. And we have heard not from people who are out of the military, but people who are in the military who are saying that they don't have a military capable of responding quickly -- General Casey has said that.
And we need -- and others -- and we need to recognize that this two-day show that we had here in Washington was a good report, but we have to look at it with the background that we've heard from John and from Bobby and others.
REID: Did we learn anything about America being any safer? No.
Did we learn, in any way, when our troops can come home? The answer is no.
QUESTION: Will you please tell us -- the president issued a direct challenge to you when he said, give him his money for his war; don't add anything that you want on it, or he's going to veto it.
Do you have a response to that challenge?
REID: Well, I smile. Because he didn't have to look at his talking points. This has been going on. This is the sixth time. And he should be able to remember that. And obviously, he did, because it's the same thing he's said every time a supplemental comes up. I don't know how many we've had. He says the same thing.
We are going to be very, very aware of the fact that the troops need to be funded. And we'll do everything we can to fund the troops. But that does not take any ability away from us to do the right thing for the American people.
Are we going to negotiate here, with all of you, as to what we're going to try to do with the supplemental? The answer is no.
But you should also understand that Speaker Pelosi and I were not born, politically, yesterday. We've been working on this for some time. And we have a plan and we will execute it, in spite of the president and his usual, normal harangue, "take care of the troops."
We are the ones that have taken care of the troops. We're the ones that first called for the need for body armor for people that are there fighting for us, like the men behind us today. We're the first to call for up-armoring our vehicles.
So the president need not lecture us on taking care of the troops. We think taking care of the troops is his supporting the G.I. Bill of Rights, that now has 52 co-sponsors in the Senate and 130 or so in the House.
We think the president should get behind our legislating the dwell time.
So I don't want to be curt with you or lecture to you, but I don't want the president to, in any way, give us any statements about taking care of the troops. We are taking care of the troops. QUESTION: Mr. Reid...
PELOSI: I would like to respond to that first question about what we heard, and are there any thoughts that they could achieve political success while the full deployment of our troops are there.
I associate myself with Senator Reid's remark that we certainly hope so. But there hasn't been any success to match the service and sacrifice of our troops and the secure period of time for there to have been any political solutions put forth to bring peace and reconciliation in Iraq.
In fact, the generals there have said the greatest threat -- the greatest obstacle to peace and reconciliation in Iraq are not the Sunnis, are not the Iranians, are not the Al Qaida. The biggest obstacle to reconciliation and peace in Iraq is the Iraqi government.
Now, let me say this -- you talked about the performance of the military. Before the general and the ambassador came up at the end of last week, I said -- and maybe it was -- yes, it was the end of last week.
I said that one of the tests I had as to whether General Petraeus was going to put a shine on what happened in Basra -- what we know happened in Basra is that -- well, the facts are these: that in Basra the Iraqi military planned to go into Basra because of the violence and unrest that existed there. They did not inform us until 48 hours in advance of that initiation of engagement.
Why did we have to find out 48 hours in advance? They should have told us sooner. But don't we spend tens of billions of dollars on intelligence. Why didn't we know?
Secondly, he honestly responded on Monday to the Senate when he said that the Iraqi government -- the Iraqi troops did not perform up to par. And the facts are that we know that they didn't perform up to par, that the U.S. had to come in to bail them out. And the only reason that any level of peace or reduction in violence occurred was because al-Sadr decided not to continue his side of the violence.
So that determination was made by al-Sadr, not by the success of the Iraqi military.
So he gave a fairly straightforward answer -- not all that I just said, but about the performance of the Iraqi troops.
The next day, he changed his tune as to what happened in Basra. I wonder why. Perhaps he heard from the commander in chief.
I think it's time we hear from the commander in chief to these serious questions. Because the president can have all the speeches he wants, he can make all the statements he wants, but we still have many unanswered questions as we continue to put our men and women in harm's way.
QUESTION: Will the House hold votes on dwell time also?
PELOSI: We have, over and over again. Imagine that we have had these votes on dwell time, that we have tried to say to the president, Let's not even have a fight over these, these are the guidelines of the Department of Defense, that you don't send troops to a stint, to a deployment that is longer than the dwell time at home and that deployment should not last longer than 12 months, which for some is too long. For some it should only be nine months.
So, yes, we will have votes.
QUESTION: How soon will you have it?
QUESTION: How soon will you guys...
PELOSI: We'll have it as soon as we do. But we have had it over and over and over again. And leaders like Mr. Skelton and leaders like Mr. Murtha have tried to persuade the administration to do this, because, as Bobby says, we're at the end of the line in terms of the readiness of our troops.
So it's not a question of whether we'll put it up. We can put it up any day of the week, and we can prevail with it because we don't have some of the parliamentary obstacles that the Senate have.
Remind you, remember the filibuster last summer when we had rallies outside the Capitol supporting the United States senators who were filibustering on the floor to try to get a vote on the Webb legislation. You remember that it only came to 57 votes. We couldn't get the 60 votes to allow a vote on the Webb resolution, which would have surely passed overwhelmingly.
REID: One last question.
QUESTION: Senator Reid, in the past you've -- you have focused in a number of news conferences with us on forcing a change of mission legislatively. This time we've only heard you emphasize adding domestic funding to supplemental. Are you...
REID: Well, I think very clearly -- very clearly -- that, as I indicate, the speaker and I are not going to outline to you or negotiate with any of you as to what we're going to put in a supplemental.
We have a majority of the United States Senate who believe in a change of curse -- a majority of the United States Senate -- we are going to continue down that line and do everything we can on the supplemental to make sure the American people know we still care and that we want to do everything we can to change course in Iraq.
One thing I want to stress: The 12 months on duty, 12 months off duty, that's a compromise. Most military people believe it should be 12 months on duty and 24 months off duty.
This is something the president should agree with us. I can't understand why he wouldn't allow us to legislate this.
Thank you all very much.