- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told a gathering of Democratic and liberal activists in Washington yesterday that “we have to start bringing our troops home.”

The Nevada Democrat opened his remarks at the Take Back America 2006 Conference by criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. The conference is hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), a liberal advocacy organization.

“As we meet here today, the president is meeting with his Cabinet to talk about Iraq. As well he should,” Mr. Reid said to applause.

President Bush has stated his position repeatedly: ” ‘As Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down.’ ”

“I don’t want to hear that anymore,” Mr. Reid said. “Our troops deserve an exit strategy.”

Mr. Reid seemed to make a more direct call for withdrawal of troops than his previous remarks, but the senator’s office disagreed.

“It’s consistent with the Democrats proposal for a responsible redeployment of troops,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “And it’s in line with the bill that passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support calling for a ‘significant transition’ of troops from Iraq in 2006.”

In his speech, Mr. Reid made repeated reference to the Senate bill as “law” that Mr. Bush must follow.

One Democratic staffer in attendance, who because of the staffer’s ongoing relations with Mr. Reid asked to remain anonymous, said the senator gave a similar, less pointed speech in Nevada during the weekend.

“But at the end of the speech, people in the crowd started chanting, ‘Bring them home,’ ” the staffer said.

Mr. Reid spoke on the first day of CAF’s three-day conference. Admission to the week’s speeches, workshops and a gala dinner cost $125 to $410.

Other prominent Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are scheduled to appear today.

Participating groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, Wal-Mart Watch and the Truman National Security Project.

CAF says its goals for the conference are to “educate, inspire and engage” progressive activists.

As Mr. Reid criticized the administration, he received hisses of agreement from the crowd. “Distract, distort, divide. That’s what this administration has done,” Mr. Reid said. “We can’t continue to be bogged down in Iraq.”

Most in attendance seemed to approve of the speech by the soft-spoken senator.

“I’d like to give him some of whatever they gave Bruce Banner to become the Incredible Hulk,” said Charles Bright of Alexandria. “But after his speech, I felt like calling myself a Democrat, instead of an independent liberal, which is how I’ve described myself the last several years.”

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