- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

War protesters will hear from a few congressional Democrats as they rally in Washington this weekend, but top party leaders will be conspicuously absent.

Neither Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will be speaking, nor will potential presidential candidates Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry.

Anti-war groups hope to attract 100,000 people to a rally and march past the White House today, and will spend Monday lobbying lawmakers to bring troops home from Iraq now. Meanwhile, groups that support the war will hold a counterdemonstration today.

Congressional Black Caucus Democrats have met with anti-war leaders and two are expected to address today’s rally, Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan. But the top leaders all have plans elsewhere.

“He won’t be in D.C.,” said April Boyd, spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee, while Philippe Reines, spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said she will be in New York.

The protesters say they are disappointed Democrats aren’t taking a stronger lead, but Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, said part of the point of the rally is to send a message to lawmakers.

“The immediate challenge is to put Congress on the hot seat,” he said. “It’s going to be a carrot and a stick approach. It’s great some are not only critical of the war and willing to take some action, including speak at this rally, but we need a lot more.”

Mr. Dobbs said as strong as some of the Democrats have been, nobody is going as far as the protesters want.

“Our goal is to end the war now,” he said. “There is not a bill in Congress that would do that.”

Some Democrats such as Mrs. Clinton have met with Cindy Sheehan, the new national face of the anti-war movement whose son was killed in Iraq, and Mrs. Pelosi of California has a meeting scheduled for this week with Mrs. Sheehan.

After spending much of the summer protesting outside of the president’s Texas ranch, Mrs. Sheehan has been traveling the country with her message of ending the war now.

In New York on Monday, she singled Mrs. Clinton out for criticism for having voted for the war and having since introduced a bill calling for more troops.

While the protesters want an immediate withdrawal, most Democrats and the few Republicans who have criticized the war say the solution is running a better or smarter war, not an immediate pullout.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said he is not going to the rallies, and explained that while he’s been “consistently critical” of the administration on the Iraq effort, both on strategy and planning, withdrawing troops now could destabilize the region and be an even bigger disaster.

“My view is that they’ve created a difficult situation with an uncertain outcome. But if I look ahead, the question is what do you do now to deal with the threats,” and “dangers that have been generated,” he said.

The basic answer now is to try and stabilize Iraq, he added.

“The administration has created the possibility of a … Lebanon on steroids,” he said, explaining “our presence is not helpful; our departure would be even worse.”

He said while he understands the message of the anti-war demonstrations — which is to get troops out of Iraq immediately — it probably isn’t the best option at this point.

“I’m sympathetic, especially to families that have lost children,” he said. “But I think we owe at this juncture the best judgment we can give about what we can do now to protect the country.”

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Democrats have been warned by military experts that immediate withdrawal of troops would be bad, so now “I think they’re hesitant” to align themselves with anti-war demonstrations.

The anti-war rally begins at 10 a.m. today at the Ellipse near the White House.

The counterdemonstration begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Navy Memorial. Organizers yesterday also were trying to get a permit to rally tomorrow in support of military families.

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