Congress Reacts to Iraq Progress Report
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Just hours after a congressionally mandated White House report came out, Congress took action. Yesterday's report showed Iraq had made little or no progress on most benchmarks. Lawmakers in the House, on a mostly party line vote, passed a bill requiring that U.S. troop pullouts begin four months from now and conclude by next April. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate where Democrats and some Republicans are using a defense policy bill to push for getting out of Iraq.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: The White House released its interim report on Iraqi benchmarks three days before it was actually due. It was a move by an administration that's found itself scrambling to stave off a collapse in support from congressional Republicans.
President Bush allowed it was a mixed report, but a bigger concern at a White House news conference seemed to be Congress and its attempts to influence his policies on Iraq.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll work with Congress; I'll listen to Congress. Congress has got all the right to appropriate money. But the idea of telling our military how to conduct operations, for example, or how to, you know, deal with troop strength is - I don't think it makes sense. I don't think it makes sense today, nor do I think it's a good precedent for the future.
WELNA: Trying to run a war through resolution is a prescription for failure, he said. Adding, and we can't afford to fail. But as the House debated an actual bill mandating troop drawdowns, California Democrat Loretta Sanchez let the President know she thinks it's a bit late for warning against failure.
Representative LORETTA SANCHEZ (Democrat, California): It is with sadness that this Congress has to tell you that your war in Iraq is a failure, and that we will not let you leave our brave men and women over there when you have no plan to allow them to succeed.
WELNA: Just four Republicans voted for the troop pullback bill, which faces a White House veto threat, and only 10 Democrats voted against it. Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey accused Democrats of simply trying to appease their anti-war base.
Representative PHIL GINGREY (Republican, Georgia): Let's not waste the time of this body by debating vague bills with absolutely no chance of becoming law. Let's instead examine the upcoming September report from our top military commanders and then - yes, then - make informed decisions on the best path forward.
WELNA: Meanwhile in the Senate, the president's GOP allies strained to buck up support for his troop buildup in Iraq. Here is Arizona's Jon Kyl.
Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): There is no better way to support the troops than by supporting the troops.
WELNA: South Carolina's Lindsey Graham offered a similar line of reasoning.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): The best way to defeat al-Qaida is to defeat al-Qaida.
WELNA: And Senate Democrats predictably threw cold water on the benchmark report. Here's Washington's Patty Murray.
Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democrat, Washington): The White House report is a huge disappointment. The Iraqi government clearly is not making enough progress. Violence is not going to end in Iraq until the Iraqis themselves take responsibility for their country.
WELNA: Murray said it's time for Senate Republicans who've criticized the handling of the war to vote with Democrats for a change of course now. But Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, who is seeking reelection next year, said he won't bow to pressure.
Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): If I took a poll in Minnesota right now, the majority of folks in my state would take it out of Iraq right away. I know that doing that would be a disaster, disaster for our troops on the ground, disaster for America in the long run. And it's not me knowing that, our Ambassador Crocker says it, Henry Kissinger says it. So I'm not going to support that.
WELNA: But Indiana's Richard Lugar, who's one of the Senate's most respected Republicans, says he's sponsoring an amendment to the defense bill that would force the White House to start work on an exit strategy for Iraq now.
Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): We're asking that there be immediate work on planning so that when the President does come to some choices the plans are there, that he doesn't helm to a choice and suddenly there's criticism again that planning has been inadequate.
WELNA: And Maine Republican Susan Collins, who's also on the ballot next year, says she's still thinking about backing an amendment coming up next week that would begin troop pullouts in 120 days.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): It would demonstrate beyond any doubt that our commitment to Iraq is not unconditional and it is not open-ended. And I think that's a strong message that needs to be sent. And it's obvious that the President isn't going to send it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. COLLINS: I just got frowned at.
WELNA: Frowning at Collins was fellow Republican John McCain, one of President Bush's strongest allies on Iraq.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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