In Session

House liberals force vote on pullout from Afghanistan

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Liberals in the House, who have spent much of the past year complaining that other congressional Democrats and the White House are insufficiently progressive, will get a chance this week to vent about one of their biggest concerns: the war in Afghanistan.

House leaders will allow three hours of formal debate, probably Wednesday, on an antiwar resolution written by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), one of the leading antiwar voices in Congress. The resolution, which has 16 co-sponsors, calls for the United States to remove all of its troops from Afghanistan in 30 days -- or by the end of the year, if it is determined that trying to do so in a month would be too dangerous.

The resolution will invoke the 1973 War Powers Act, which Congress passed in protest of the escalation of the Vietnam War by a series of presidents without formal congressional authorization. It requires congressional approval for a president to put troops in a military conflict for more than 90 days. Congress passed a resolution authorizing military force in Afghanistan in 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, and some congressional scholars doubt Congress can invoke the act now to force changes to President Obama's war policy.

Whether or not it would have any legal force if enacted, the resolution has almost no chance of being approved in the House, where nearly all Republicans and many Democrats support maintaining or increasing troop levels.

But the lawmakers supporting the resolution, a group that includes antiwar Republicans such as Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), say Congress needs to have a formal debate on the war.

"We haven't had a real debate," Kucinich said in explaining why he was pushing the resolution. "We want to light the fire of the American peace movement." (And, he added, "get out of there!")

Democratic leaders support bringing the measure to a vote to give antiwar lawmakers an opportunity to register their frustration with Obama's decision to increase troop levels by 30,000 before Congress approves the funding for the surge.

The administration has requested $33 billion to boost the U.S. force in Afghanistan from about 70,000 to 100,000, a request that could be debated and approved by Congress as soon as next month. A $96.7 billion funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drew 60 "no" votes in the House last year, 51 of them from Democrats.

"There are many members in the caucus who are eager to have a vote soon on Afghanistan," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said when Kucinich proposed the measure. "This may satisfy that need."

The vote will be a measure of the depth of opposition to Obama's war policy, because it is not tied to troop funding, which lawmakers in both parties are loath to vote against.

A caucus of one

Of the Democratic lawmakers who distanced themselves from Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) , the most interesting may be Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who is running for governor in his home state. The 42-year-old lawmaker sits on the Ways and Means Committee, which Rangel chaired until he was forced to step aside last week, and also is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has maintained rock-solid support for Rangel.

Caucus members did not criticize Davis directly, but some, including Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y), one of Rangel's best friends in Congress, said many of those who called for the chairman to step down did so for "political purposes."

Davis also stood apart from the black caucus in November, as the only member of the caucus to vote against the House version of health-care legislation. He was condemned by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who said that "you can't vote against health care and call yourself a black man," according to the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

Davis said at the time that he preferred the Senate bill, but now he opposes that version as well. Davis's office said Monday that he will vote no if the House decides to take up the Senate bill, as is expected, and he has criticized his Democratic primary opponent, Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, for speaking favorably of the Democratic health-care effort.

Davis's position on health care and his rebuke of Rangel could aid his campaign in Alabama. Obama received only 39 percent of the vote there, and Davis will have to woo conservative voters to win. The lawmaker is considered the favorite in the June Democratic primary, but he could face an uphill climb in November against whoever emerges from the seven-candidate GOP field.

"A comprehensive, 2000-page, near-$1 trillion dollar overhaul of the health-care system is just too cumbersome and too costly in a time of trillion-dollar deficits," he said.

Davis added: "I am disturbed by a mind-set in Washington that a bill with less than 40 percent support from the American people has to be passed at all costs."

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