- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

President Bush this evening rejected Democratic plans to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, vetoing an emergency spending bill that included a timeline to begin withdrawing troops as soon as July.

“It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing,” said Mr. Bush, who expressed disappointment that Democratic leaders ignored his promises over the last two months to veto the bill, despite the fact that they lack enough votes to override his veto.

“They’ve sent their message and now it is time to put politics behind us and give our troops the funds they need,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush signed the second veto of his administration just minutes after returning from a day trip to Florida, and just hours after receiving the bill from Democratic congressional leaders.

The $124 billion bill now heads back to a Congress that sent the legislation to Mr. Bush four years to the day after the president gave his now famous “mission accomplished” speech, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

House Democrats are expected to attempt to override the veto as soon as tomorrow, although they likely are at least 70 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to succeed.

Negotiations can then begin anew for a bill to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The Pentagon is already raiding other military accounts to pay for combat operations until July.

Democrat leaders have signaled that they will be gradually backing down from the veto standoff with Mr. Bush, but today they reveled in the showdown.

“A veto means denying our troops the resources and strategy they need,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “After more than four years of a failed policy, it’s time to remove our troops from an open-ended civil war and for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future.”

Behind the scenes, the Nevada Democrat has been courting Republican support for compromise war-funding legislation to follow Mr. Bush’s veto and saying Democrats can use other bills to confront President Bush on Iraq.

Senior Democratic aides say Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, privately acknowledges that eventually the “money will get to the troops without timetables.”

However, Mr. Reid yesterday beseeched the president to admit failure in Iraq and sign the bill, which would start a withdrawal as soon as July if the Iraqi government does not meet policy benchmarks.

He made the remark alongside Mrs. Pelosi at a rare congressional bill-signing ceremony, an event usually reserved for landmark legislation.

Despite passing the bill five days earlier, Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi waited to send it to the president on the fourth anniversary of the president’s aircraft carrier speech in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

The president’s critics say the speech is emblematic of the misguided war effort.

The White House counters that the speech on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln was announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq and the end of the carrier’s tour of duty, not the end of the war.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino denounced the Democrats’ timing.

“Even though the Democrats won’t say so on the record, it is a trumped-up political stunt that is the height of cynicism and it’s very disturbing to think that they possibly held up this money for the troops and the troops’ families and the resources they need to try some PR stunt on this day,” Mrs. Perino said.

Mrs. Pelosi said the timing of the signing ceremony was coincidental.

She said the paper was not ready until yesterday and that the signing was delayed a day due to the funeral Monday in Los Angeles for Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat.

“Today is the first day that I can sign the bill to send it to the president, which we will do forthwith,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Still, more than a dozen House Democrats lined up for morning floor speeches marking the anniversary with calls for Mr. Bush to sign the pullout bill.

“On the fourth anniversary of ‘Mission Accomplished,’ the president is faced with a choice: either listen to the will of the American people or continue to send our brave men and women into harm’s way to police a religious civil war,” Rep. Tim Mahoney, Florida Democrat, told the chamber.

Mr. Bush will meet at the White House tomorrow with congressional leaders from both parties, to talk about the war in Iraq.

Under the legislation that passed both chambers of Congress in near party-line votes, the troop withdrawal would commence July 1 if the Iraqi government does not meet certain policy benchmarks.

The benchmarks include reduced sectarian violence, the establishment of a militia-disarmament program and laws that share oil revenue among all Iraqi factions.

If they satisfy the benchmarks, U.S. troops would start to pull out Oct. 1 with a goal of most troops coming home by April.

The Democratic strategy would limit combat operations by rolling back security patrols by the U.S. military in sectarian hot spots and by barring participation in the systematic search for insurgents tasks typically determined by commanders on the scene and Mr. Bush as the commander in chief.

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