A conservative, a moderate, a liberal and a libertarian teamed up in the House yesterday to prod President Bush to set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq, striking a rare tone of unity on a day when tensions about national security provoked marathon brawling on the floor.
The resolution was sponsored by Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.). It calls for Bush to begin drawing down troops in Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006, but does not set a date for complete withdrawal.
Jones -- a congressman's son who voted for the war, sits on the Armed Services Committee and represents the huge Marine base at Camp Lejeune -- said he believes that in the long run, his constituents "will think that we as a nation have a responsibility to take a fresh look" at goals for Iraq. "I think Mr. Bush could really declare victory in the next six months if he wanted to," he said.
Abercrombie said he sees a parallel to Vietnam in that "military action is becoming its own political policy," and said the "Homeward Bound" legislation was written to avoid blame and generate bipartisan support.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) tried to introduce an amendment to a military spending bill that would have given the president 30 days to show Congress criteria for determining when U.S. forces could withdraw from Iraq -- but GOP leaders blocked it, saying such additions are not allowed to appropriations bills.
One of the most contentious security issues is on the domestic front, the president's call for Congress to renew 15 provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year. A hearing on the Patriot Act last Friday ended in turmoil when Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.) became irritated by a stream of criticism of the administration and gaveled the session to an end.
Sensenbrenner, under heavy criticism from Democrats, acknowledged during a 16-minute defense on the floor starting at 9:10 p.m. that he had "adjourned the hearing in a manner inconsistent with the spirit of comity that has and should continue to inform committee deliberations." But he said he had "exercised great patience" in the hearing. Turning to the Democratic side, he said, "I will not be deterred by malicious attacks or minority obstructionism."
"This grossly unfair and distorted depiction of my conduct demands correction," he said. Republicans leapt to their feet and showered Sensenbrenner with applause and cheers of "Hoaaaa!"
Sensenbrenner was responding to a resolution of disapproval proposed by a committee Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.). The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), said he was stunned during the hearing by Sensenbrenner's "hostility" toward lawmakers and witnesses. "I've never, ever experienced a witness being stopped dead in mid-sentence," said Conyers, a 40-year congressman.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) sat across the aisle from Sensenbrenner as he spoke and later issued a statement calling Sensenbrenner "well respected" and saying that his work on the Patriot Act has been "conducted in a fair, bipartisan, and comprehensive manner." Republicans killed Nadler's resolution.
Earlier, Republican leaders set up a fight with Bush with serious international implications by opening debate on a bill that would demand new accountability and compliance from the United Nations and could lead to the United States withholding half its dues. The White House issued a stern warning that the bill "could detract from and undermine our efforts" to change the world body and could "impermissibly infringe on the president's authority under the Constitution to conduct the nation's foreign affairs."
But Republicans said they would go ahead, and expected the bill to pass today. House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (Ill.), who is making the bill one of his last causes before retiring at the end of next year, said that the United Nations' failings had grown. "We are opposed to legendary bureaucratization, to political grandstanding, to billions of dollars spent on multitudes of programs with meager results," he said.
Rep. Tom Lantos (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said the bill set up arbitrary mechanisms. "The Lord gave us Ten Commandments, but the bill before the House today gives us 39," he said.
Also yesterday, the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations slashed a White House foreign-aid request, recommending $1.75 billion instead of the $3 billion Bush had sought for the Millennium Challenge Account for developing countries. House Republicans pointed out that it was still an increase in a tight budget year, and that the administration had not spent money previously allotted.