House Votes to Require Assent for Ground Troops
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 29, 1999; Page A1
President Clinton signaled yesterday that the air campaign in Yugoslavia may continue for at least another three months, while he sought to quell congressional discontent by yielding to some GOP demands on military spending and agreeing to legislative consultation on the possible introduction of U.S. ground troops.
Despite his conciliation, the House voted 249 to 180 to block funding for U.S. ground forces in the Balkans unless Congress first gives its approval. Clinton, who had hoped to prevent the vote, tried to remove some of its political sting by issuing a preemptive letter agreeing to consult with legislators before sending in ground troops. He repeated that he does not intend to use U.S. ground troops to fight their way into Kosovo, but might deploy them in a peacekeeping or "permissive" setting.
A Democratic resolution to support the air war later failed on a tie vote of 213 to 213.
In Belgrade, meanwhile, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic fired Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, a maverick critic who had called for sending armed United Nations peacekeepers to Kosovo. Clinton said it was a sign that the Belgrade regime was splintering over the NATO campaign, though it consolidated the control of Milosevic and other hard-liners over the Yugoslav government.
And in Berlin, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said the United States and its allies were close to an agreement with Russia on how to manage an international peacekeeping force for Kosovo, once the conflict is over. Such an agreement could open the way to a new effort by Russia to broker a deal between NATO and Yugoslavia to end the war.
The flurry of activity came as the House began voting on the Kosovo war for the first time since hostilities began last month. With GOP members already displaying misgivings about Clinton's handling of the war, the president tried to minimize the impact of a congressional debate that White House aides feared could give comfort to Milosevic and undermine allied efforts to conduct rescue missions and keep military options open.
At the same time, the president gave his clearest signal yet that the air campaign may continue well into the summer. Clinton told reporters that NATO pilots now can "fly around the clock, at lower altitudes from all directions, in better weather. Historically, the weather [in Yugoslavia] is better in May than in April, better in June than in May, better in July than in June. And I feel very strongly that we should stay with, and be very strong, in determination to pursue our strategy."
Meeting with congressional leaders in the morning, the president told House and Senate leaders he would consult with them before sending ground troops, and he sent a letter to House members shortly before yesterday's votes, reiterating that promise.
Clinton also appeared to compromise in the area of military spending. He has asked Congress for $6 billion in emergency funds for Kosovo military and humanitarian operations, but Republicans have proposed doubling the amount to fund their own military-related priorities.
While asking Congress to endorse his plan as introduced, Clinton privately told lawmakers they could add to it, provided they not make it so unwieldy and controversial that they delayed its passage.
"He said, 'Just please don't overload it so it gets bogged down,' " said House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.). "He was showing a willingness to try to work together with the Congress."
Many House leaders, however, said they could not afford to trust Clinton after he had forged agreements with NATO on the Balkans before conferring with Congress.
"We want to change that cycle," said House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.). "We want to say, 'Mr. President, your relationship between the executive branch of this government and the Congress of the United States . . . comes before your relationship with allied nations.' "
After the meeting with the president, the House engaged in a civil, occasionally emotional debate on the conflict in the Balkans. The debate was precipitated by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.), who invoked the War Powers Resolution in an effort to force Congress to vote on two resolutions, one declaring war on Yugoslavia, the other calling for U.S. troops to come home within 30 days.
Both measures were easily defeated, with only two members, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), voting for war. But a third resolution crafted by GOP Reps. Tillie Fowler (Fla.), William F. Goodling (Pa.) and John R. Kasich (Ohio) -- calling for Congress to approve any introduction of ground troops in Kosovo -- passed by a comfortable margin.
Forty-five Democrats joined 203 Republicans in voting for the Fowler-Goodling bill, which would allow Clinton to deploy ground troops without approval in order to rescue allied military personnel. Maryland GOP Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Wayne T. Gilchrest voted in favor of the bill. GOP Rep. Constance A. Morella joined Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Elijah E. Cummings and Steny H. Hoyer in opposing it. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D) did not vote.
In the Virginia delegation, GOP Reps. Thomas J. Bliley, Thomas M. Davis III and Robert W. Goodlatte supported the bill, while Reps. Herbert H. Bateman and Frank R. Wolf opposed it. Every Virginia Democrat except Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. voted against the bill.
On the 213 to 213 tie over supporting the air war, 31 Republicans, 181 Democrats and one independent voted "yes," and 187 Republicans and 26 Democrats voted "no." Among those opposed were Bartlett, Bateman and Goodlatte.
While House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) criticized Republicans for sending a "confused" message, Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), a former Air Force officer, said the votes gave Clinton a clear signal of where Congress stands. "The message should be there are deep reservations in the Congress about the prosecution of this war," Wilson said. "It's been screwed up from the first day."
The White House saw it differently. "The House today voted no on going forward, no on going back and they tied on standing still," said White House spokesman Jake Siewert. "We will continue to prosecute the air campaign and to stop the violence being perpetrated by Milosevic."
"The speaker has been telling the president all along that he needs to make the case for our involvement in Kosovo to the Congress and to the American people," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "This vote tonight proves that the president needs to make a better case."
Prospects for a Senate vote later this week on Kosovo appeared to fade, only a day after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) suggested that he would try to work out an agreement that could be brought to the floor by Friday -- possibly along the lines of the measure approved yesterday by the House.
But the House proposal ran into Senate objections, both from Democrats and from Republicans who support a resolution authorizing the president to use "all necessary force" to prevail in Kosovo.
In another development yesterday, Clinton announced his first foreign trip since the bombing began on March 24, saying he will travel to Germany on May 4-5 to visit U.S. troops and review efforts to help Kosovo refugees.
Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.