House Bill Sets Date for Iraq Withdrawal

A bill voted on by the House of Representatives Friday includes a measure requiring troops to withdraw from Iraq by fall 2008. President Bush has promised to veto the bill.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

In a few minutes, less is more, at least, for T.G.I.Friday's, which hopes to make money offering less food.

BRAND: But first.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): On this vote, the yeas are 218, the nays are 212.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. PELOSI: The bill is passed without objection. A motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

BRAND: That's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking today after a very divided House of Representatives passed legislation, 218-212, to continue funding for the war in Iraq. The bill also has a deadline to bring the troops home by September of next year. It was a hard slog for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get her fellow Democrats to agree to the bill. Joining us now from Washington, as he does every Friday, is NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Madeleine. Hello, John.

YDSTIE: Hi, Juan.

BRAND: Well, Juan, why was it so hard for Nancy Pelosi to get this bill through?

WILLIAMS: I think the historians are going to have a good time with this, Madeleine, because it wasn't the conservative Democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, who were fighting her and saying that this bill was putting too much pressure on the commanders in the field or challenging the president as commander in chief. To the contrary, it was liberal Democrats, people who are wanting U.S. troops out immediately, who said they didn't want to pass a $124 billion spending bill that would allow the war to continue until the March 2008 deadline that's been set in the bill.

So really it's ironic, I guess, to some extent to think that it was the liberal wing of the party that was challenging Speaker Pelosi, and she had to load the bill with lots of incentives - some say pork barrel, deals for peanuts, and people in the Gulf Coast and everything - in order to get those people on board.

And finally, people like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, people who were leaders of the Out of Iraq caucus said that, and here I'm quoting, this is what Barbara said, "I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war." YDSTIE: So Juan, now that this passed the House let's talk about the Senate side, what are the prospects for this legislation over there?

WILLIAMS: Well, John, as you know, yesterday, Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $122 billion spending bill for the wars in say let's withdraw the troops beginning in just four months of passage but also then set a non-binding date of March 2008 - the same as in the House bill - for removal of all combat troops.

towards some kind of reconciliation between the House and the Senate, that's the version that's going to prevail. And I think it has the possibility of getting some Republican votes and therefore ending up on the president's desk.

BRAND: Well, Juan, the president says he'll veto anything that has timetables or benchmarks, and he doesn't like the September '08 deadline. At the same time, also saying that delaying funding endangers the troops in Iraq. So is he making Democrats worried that they're again being painted as not supporting the troops?

Williams: You bet, Madeleine. Because I mean I've had a conversation recently with some people, Democrats up on the Hill, and they said, you know, it's ironic that Republicans, of course, are voting against this bill. But they're not being painted as people who are denying funding to the troops in the field. It's the Democrats. And the White House - the president with the bully pulpit - is setting the agenda, setting the terms of the discussion on the debate.

And then Defense Secretary Robert Gates said just the other day, that if congress doesn't pass the supplemental by April 15th, you know, tax day, that means that the training of units who are supposed to go to Iraq and Afghanistan will have to be delayed. And he said, if it's delayed beyond April into May, then tours of duty for people who are on the ground would have to be extended because the other units won't be ready to replace them.

So that's the leverage, in a sense, that the Democrats have. But it comes at a high cost, as you pointed out. Because they can be sure that Republicans will say this is the same old weak-on-defense Democrats and they're denying funds to the troops in the field.

YDSTIE: Juan, of course, the other Washington story we've been watching this week is the attorney firings and possible White House meddling there. The White House offered to send some of the president's key aides up to the Hill to talk about it, but with strings attached. The Congress turned it down. So are subpoenas next?

WILLIAMS: I think subpoenas are a reality now from both. The question is - they've approved subpoenas, John, in both the Senate and the House, but they haven't acted to deliver the subpoenas. And there's a lot of posturing, very strong posturing on both sides. But I think we do see some light at the end of the tunnel.

It's so hard-line right now because the White House sees that this whole debate is feeding the right wing of their base. They're delighted with it; they see that they're fighting the Democrats. And from the Democratic perspective on the Hill, it's feeding their base. And so the politics of it really are attractive for people to take a hard-line. We'll see how long the hard-line holds.

YDSTIE: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, John. Thank you, Madeleine.

YDSTIE: There's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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