Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama led a field of Democratic presidential candidates offering their proposals to end the war in Iraq during a "virtual town hall meeting" hosted last night by liberal activist group MoveOn.org.
"All the happy talk will not change the grim situation on the ground," Mrs. Clinton said, adding that she favors a withdrawal beginning within 90 days. "If President Bush won't end the war in Iraq, when I'm president, I will."
The New York Democrat also said she supports talking with Iran and Syria about Iraq.
"I applaud Speaker Pelosi," she said, when asked about California Democrat Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to Syria, despite objections from the White House.
Mrs. Clinton declined to say whether she would support a bill cutting off funding for troops in Iraq if Mr. Bush vetoes the current Senate supplemental-funding bill, which includes a timetable for withdrawal.
"I don't think we should tell him what we'll do if he vetoes it," she said.
Mr. Obama took a shot at Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, describing his recent visit to an Iraqi marketplace as "simply not credible."
Mr. McCain, who wore body armor and was protected by helicopters and armored vehicles, said after his trip that he was encouraged by signs of progress in Iraq.
"The hard truth is, there's no military solution to this war," said Mr. Obama of Illinois, reminding MoveOn members that he opposed the conflict from the beginning.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio also participated in the event, which was broadcast to thousands of "house parties" hosted by MoveOn members across the country.
Mr. Edwards credited MoveOn with helping to move the debate over a U.S. withdrawal in Iraq from "a question of 'if' to 'how soon?' "
But he also had strong words for his former colleagues in Congress.
"We don't need symbolic resolutions," he said of the Democrat-backed war-funding bill.
Mr. Richardson said he would force a showdown with Mr. Bush in the Supreme Court to stop the war.
"It's the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and to stop a war," he said.
Mr. Richardson said Democrats should pass a deauthorization of the war, based on the War Powers Act. If that is vetoed by the president, it would set up the high court showdown, he said.
Spreading the audience for the so-called town hall meeting across numerous locations was not the only nontraditional aspect of last night's event.
Although MoveOn members could submit questions to the candidates, they were not allowed to ask the questions live. Instead, the candidates received selected questions in advance and taped their answers, which were broadcast last night on MoveOn's Web site and the Air America radio network.
The event was co-sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future (CAF) and the Service Employees International Union.
"In the midst of a war, with soldiers under fire, the vast majority of Americans voted to change course in Iraq last November," CAF spokesman Toby Chaudhuri said. "Now they're gathering in living rooms across the country to ask the candidates exactly how they plan to do just that."
Today, MoveOn members will discuss the performances and then vote on "who we think will do the best job in Iraq." The group's Web site also will allow members to make direct financial contributions to the various campaigns based on how they think each candidate performed.
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