WASHINGTON – Democratic critics of the Iraq war seized the offensive at both ends of the Capitol on Tuesday, disclosing plans for a symbolic rejection by the House of President Bush’s decision to deploy additional troops and filing legislation in the Senate to require withdrawal of U.S. military personnel.
Democrats pressured Bush to change course as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers that U.S. forces might be able to start leaving Iraq before the end of the year – if daunting conditions including subdued violence and political reconciliation are met.
He also said that the buildup in troops is “not the last chance” to succeed in Iraq and added, “I would be irresponsible if I weren’t thinking about what the alternatives might be.”
The Pentagon is in the midst of implementing Bush’s order to raise troop levels by 21,500, part of a plan to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Bush’s decision to dispatch additional troops has become a flashpoint for critics of his Iraq policy in the new, Democratic-controlled Congress, whose lawmakers were elected last fall by a war-weary electorate.
Officials said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, had both pledged to the Democratic rank and file that the House would vote next week on a nonbinding measure critical of Bush’s plan to add 21,500 forces. They also reassured lawmakers clamoring for more robust action that the vote would merely be the first attempt to pressure the president to shift course and that future legislation will be binding.
Democrats intend to allow all lawmakers time to speak on the issue across three days of debate beginning next Tuesday.
Under House rules, Democratic leaders have the authority to advance legislation to the floor for three days of debate, and there is little doubt they will have the votes to prevail.
That stands in contrast to the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked an attempt by Democrats to hold a full-fledged debate on the war.
Two bills were unveiled during the day to force the president to move toward a troop withdrawal.
“The only people who believe there is a workable military solution for the conflict in Iraq is the Bush administration,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in announcing legislation that would require Bush to “complete the redeployment” of American troops within a year.
Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, a Democratic presidential hopeful, joined two House members in proposing a measure to block Bush from implementing his planned troop increase and to begin a withdrawal by May 1, with all combat brigades out by March 31, 2008.