WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney accused Democratic leader Harry Reid on Tuesday of personally pursuing a defeatist strategy in Iraq to win votes at home – a charge Reid dismissed as President Bush’s “attack dog” lashing out.
The particularly harsh exchange came just hours after Bush said he would veto the latest war spending bill taking shape in Congress, which includes a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq.
“Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics,” Cheney told reporters at the Capitol after attending the weekly Republican policy lunch. “Senator Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election.
“It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage,” Cheney said.
Cheney said he felt compelled to make a statement in front of cameras to express his frustration with Reid, D-Nev., after the Senate majority leader told reporters last week the war was lost. Cheney’s remarks also showed the high stakes involved for the White House in trying to stave off Democratic efforts to end the war.
While Bush has enough Republican votes to sustain his veto, Democrats say they have public opinion on their side and that will eventually force Bush to change.
“This isn’t a political issue,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “I respect where the president is coming from on this. I wish he would respect where we are coming from, which is a reflection of where the American people are coming from.”
Reid shrugged off Cheney’s remarks – but with his own dig at the vice president.
“I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with the administration’s chief attack dog,” he said.
The $124.2 billion legislation would continue to fund the war in Iraq but also would require that troops begin pulling out by Oct. 1 – or earlier if the Iraqi government does not make progress in tamping down sectarian violence and forging political agreements. The bill ultimately sets a nonbinding goal for combat operations to end by April 1, 2008.
“It’s a good piece of legislation,” Reid said. “I would hope the president would stop being so brusque and waving it off. This is a bill that is good for the troops. It’s good for the country.”
With Democrats expecting to send Bush the final bill as early as next week, Bush stood firm Tuesday against any measure that would set a timetable for withdrawal.
“They chose to make a political statement,” he said. “That’s their right, but it is wrong for our troops and it’s wrong for our country. To accept the bill proposed by the Democratic leadership would be to accept a policy that directly contradicts the judgment of our military commanders.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats will ignore the veto threat and send the bill to Bush in the hope that he will have a change of heart. But, Hoyer added, they don’t expect it.