Senate Vote Sends Bush an Iraq Deadline
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The Senate ignored President Bush's threatened veto today and passed an Iraq War spending bill that requires troop withdrawals to begin no later than October 1st. The House passed the bill last night. That sets the stage for a test of wills over a war that congressional Democrats are confident no longer has the support of most Americans.
NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA: Two Republicans joined every voting Senate Democrat to pass the $124 billion supplemental spending bill. Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both ardent supporters of the Iraq War, missed the 51-46 vote to campaign for McCain's presidential bid.
Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed tried broadening support for the bill by arguing its October 1st deadline for starting troop withdrawals - will focus the minds of Iraqi leaders.
Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): If the Iraqi government isn't willing to stand up to the demands they must face, then I think we can legitimately, indeed, we must tell them very strongly, we will not support an open-ended commitment to that government.
WELNA: The other argument was basically that it's time to cut our losses. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy pointed to the tens of thousands of U.S. troops who perished in Vietnam, after Presidents Johnson and Nixon insisted on escalating that war.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Presidents make mistakes. And this president has made this mistake. The American people were right in Vietnam and brought that war to an end, and the American people are right now.
WELNA: Republicans, for their part, cast the bill as a political ploy meant to embarrass the president at the expense of U.S. forces in Iraq. Here's Missouri's Kit Bond.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): This is a sad reflection on how vested the Democratic leadership is in defeat, defeat for President Bush, but defeat for our troops and our safety in Iraq.
WELNA: The Senate's number two Republican, Mississippi's Trent Lott, portrayed today's vote as an exercise in futility.
Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): And by this political theater that we're fixing to embark upon - a vote that we know will not become law, one that will surely be vetoed by the president - this legislation is dead before arrival.
Ms. DANA PERINO (Spokeswoman, White House): The president is determined to win in Iraq. I think that the bill that they sent us today is mission defeated.
WELNA: That's White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacting to the Senate vote. Asked whether the president could be blamed for holding up funds for the Iraq War by refusing to sign the bill, Perino said the blame lies with Democratic leaders in Congress.
Ms. PERINO: Since they don't have - and they know they don't have - the votes to override the president's veto, it is their responsibility to send the president a bill that he can sign.
WELNA: But Majority leader Harry Reid still held out hope after today's vote that the president will reconsider casting the second veto of his presidency.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): We hope that he does not veto this. If he does, we - it will take us a while to put it together, because you have to start all over again, and that would be, I think, another month to do that - I think several weeks.
WELNA: Reid said he'd do his utmost to make sure a second spending bill is ready for the president to sign by July, when he said troops truly will need additional funding. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson predicted the bill passed today will be significantly revised.
Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): It will be vetoed. It'll come back. And at that point in time, I hope to take the dates out and leave the benchmarks in, and we'll see what remains and then I think the president will sign it.
WELNA: Some Republicans today said they too could support such a bill.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.