- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

The Senate Thursday rejected an effort to force President Clinton to withdraw U.S. troops from Kosovo unless Congress authorized their continued deployment, with more than a dozen Republicans joining most Democrats to oppose the move.

The 53-47 vote removed a provision from an $8.6 billion military construction-spending bill that would have terminated U.S. military participation in Kosovo on July 1, 2001, unless the president requested and Congress approved an extension.

Fifteen Republicans joined 38 Democrats to remove the provision; 40 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted against its removal.

"We fought a good fight. We finished the course. We kept the faith," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and co-sponsor of the provision. "The administration would much prefer Congress to keep quiet, roll over and play dead, while the administration continues to do whatever it wants to do in Kosovo."

Other Democrats who joined Mr. Byrd included Sens. Max Cleland of Georgia, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey.

Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to remove the provision included Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Connie Mack of Florida, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona.

"Congress should not be speaking in this fashion," Mr. McCain said. "What this vote should be about is funding, yes or no. We have enough information to make that decision."

But Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and co-sponsor of the provision with Mr. Byrd, said the time has come for Congress to decide the nation's military involvement.

"We've spent close to $20 billion in Bosnia and Kosovo. It [was] time for Congress to speak," said Mr. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

"Congress should have taken this step long ago," Mr. Byrd said. The Senate's senior Democrat argued that Mr. Clinton had "usurped" Congress' authority by deploying peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said "the issue is not whether Congress has the power to force a withdrawal of ground forces. We have that power."

"The issue is whether or not it is a wise exercise of congressional power to set a deadline for a pullout in Kosovo, thereby creating a year … of dangerous uncertainty," Mr. Levin said.

The debate affects about 5,900 U.S. troops who are part of a 37,000-member NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The peacekeepers moved in after the 78-day air war to drive Yugoslav troops out of the province ended last June.

Thursday's Senate vote came on the heels of the House's adoption Wednesday of less-stringent legislation that would require a troop withdrawal without a presidential certification that NATO is paying its fair share of the peacekeeping effort.

Mr. Warner said late Thursday that he would next try to attach the House Kosovo provision sponsored by Rep. John R. Kasich, Ohio Republican to a defense-authorization bill.

Mr. Levin and Mr. McCain said the more lenient provision would not win any more support, but others were less sure.

"I am not sure how I would have voted on the Kasich Amendment," said Senate Minority Lead Tom Daschle of South Dakota. He voted against the Byrd-Warner plan, and whipped fellow Democrats to join him, but said the House provision was "very different in tone and substance."

The Senate provision included a second section that would have required troop withdrawals beginning July 15, 2000, if Mr. Clinton could not certify that NATO is paying at least 75 percent of the cost of humanitarian and military assistance in the region.

After the provision was removed, the Senate bill passed 96 to 4. The legislation includes $4.7 billion in emergency funds for the Kosovo operation and anti-drug efforts in Colombia.

In the days leading up to the vote, Republican presidential hopeful Texas Gov. George W. Bush entered the fray, joining the Clinton administration in its opposition. And his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, who made a rare Senate appearance to preside over the vote in case he was needed to break a tie, weighed in on the matter Thursday.

"To have been forced to withdraw in this manner would have demoralized our allies, emboldened those in the region who favor violence as a solution to their disputes, and handed President [Slobodan] Milosevic a victory that he could not win through military force," he said.

Said Mr. Warner: "When the president puts on a full-court press and the vice president is in the chair, the dynamics can change quickly." Nonetheless, he said the effort had focused new attention on the region and the U.S. policy there, which he called "an extraordinary victory."

The Senate debate was largely free of partisanship, instead focusing mostly on Congress' constitutional prerogative to declare war and U.S. policy in Kosovo.

"As far as I can tell, we are on mission 'Ad Hoc' in Kosovo, with nobody in the entire executive branch able to give this senator and the American people answers to the most basic questions regarding the scope, costs or foreseeable end of the mission," Mr. Byrd said.

Former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark said the provision would be seen as a "de facto pullout decision" and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said he would recommend Mr. Clinton veto the military-construction bill if the Kosovo proposal were included.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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