- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Rep. John P. Murtha says Democrats are uniting around his call to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The Pennsylvania Democrat’s plan was echoed yesterday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, widely considered one of her party’s leading voices on national security.

“Two-thirds of the Democrats agree with my position now,” Mr. Murtha told NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert. “Every place I go, people understand what I’m saying. The public has been way ahead.”

Mrs. Feinstein, appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition,” said the Iraq mission has taken too long.

“I don’t know why we are so afraid to stand up and say, look, we want to see an end to this thing. … Three years and three months into a mission that was supposed to take 30 or 40 days — that isn’t cutting and running,” she said.

Although the House passed a resolution in support of the Iraq war last week, Mr. Murtha said the 150 Democratic and three Republican votes against the resolution were evidence of a change.

“A year ago, it would have been a lot less than that. Six months ago, it would have been a lot less than that.”

However, Mr. Murtha and Mrs. Feinstein were reluctant to use the word “withdrawal” in outlining their plan. Senators are debating the war this week, but last week voted 93-6 to reject a proposal by Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, which Republicans forced to the floor over Mr. Kerry’s objections, that called for a complete withdrawal by the end of this year.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I will say the time has come for phased redeployment,” said Mrs. Feinstein, a California Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.

Republicans said withdrawing from Iraq would concede defeat and damage national security, with Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz saying that Mr. Murtha “continued to demonstrate an inability to comprehend that surrendering the central front in the war on terror is not a strategy to defeat the terrorists.”

However, not all Democrats are calling for a withdrawal. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was booed during her speech before a gathering of liberal activists in Washington last week for saying she didn’t think a timetable for withdrawal was in America’s best interests.

“I think that I agree with Senator Clinton on this one, and I think there is a debate in our party about what the right course is,” Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democrat Network, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow told “Fox News Sunday” that President Bush isn’t paying attention to the Democrats’ internal debate over Iraq.

“The president’s really not spending a lot of time thinking about how Democrats are responding,” Mr. Snow said on CNN’s “Late Edition,” but added that Mr. Bush understands not everyone agrees with his position. “The president understands people’s impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that.”

Mr. Murtha has announced his intention to run for House majority leader if Democrats win control of Congress this November. The Vietnam veteran is considered a closer ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi than Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Mr. Murtha was pressured by party leaders to put his leadership bid on hold until after the elections but told NBC that he didn’t regret the move.

“Well, it wasn’t premature, because in this business you have to make sure you get your foot in the door,” Mr. Murtha said. “You have to make sure you make a statement, because if you don’t, other people may be running and other people will be committed.”

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