House Dems signal a shift on Iraq plans

Democrats are torn between confronting Republicans or reaching out to them as they plot their floor strategy on the war and await the Iraq assessment of Army Gen. David Petraeus.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) came out on Wednesday in favor of holding a vote on a bipartisan Iraqi withdrawal bill. Meanwhile, the party’s left wing renewed calls for a pullout and announced a new campaign to block funds for arming and training the Iraq Security Forces.

The bipartisan legislation, authored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.), would order Bush to draft plans to withdraw from Iraq but not require them to be implemented. Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) and two other Republicans have signed on as cosponsors.

“I would like to see us move forward on that,” Hoyer said. “The president ought to come up with a plan for withdrawal.”
But Democratic liberals have criticized the plan for providing “cover” to Republicans on the Iraq issue. At a marathon news conference, members of the Out of Iraq caucus said that weapons meant for the Iraqi military are winding up in the hands of the militias.

“We are merely training factions in a violent power struggle,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the bill to block training funds. Waters also raised questions about Petraeus, who has been lauded by most lawmakers, saying proper procedures were not followed when he oversaw the training of Iraqi forces.

Democratic liberals said they remain opposed to Abercrombie’s plan, which they prevented from coming to the floor in July.
With Republican support for the war holding firm, Democratic leaders have come under pressure to take a more bipartisan approach to make progress on the war. That would mean dropping demands for a firm timeline for withdrawal.

But there is also intense pressure from liberal advocacy groups to hold firm to a date-certain for withdrawal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she supports Abercrombie’s bill, even though she rebuffed his efforts to get the bill to the floor in the final days before the August break. She indicated that she is now developing plans to bring it to the floor.

“We probably will take it up with another piece of legislation that I’m not about to announce right now,” Pelosi said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

That is one of the most definitive predictions Pelosi has made about a floor strategy on the Iraq issue. Beyond that, she said, she’s waiting to hear from Petraeus before settling on what legislation to pursue.

Pelosi said she’s been encouraging Democratic representatives to employ any personal relationships they’ve developed with Republicans to find bipartisan ideas for Iraq legislation.

“But if we can’t find that [common] ground, we’ll have to stand our ground,” Pelosi said.

Abercrombie sent Pelosi a letter signed by Democratic and Republican cosponsors, urging her to bring it to the floor as a bipartisan solution.

“It is clear that it is time to develop a post-surge strategy,” the letter said.

Also Wednesday, House Defense Appropriations Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said he won’t begin work on the Iraq supplemental spending bill until October or November, and he will not roll it into the regular defense spending bill. He is to include withdrawal language, but said he is also waiting to hear from Petraeus before deciding what that will be.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the White House to protest President Bush’s criticism of Congress while attending a conference in Australia. He said it violated the principle that “partisanship ends at the water’s edge.”