- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

President Bush yesterday rallied his Republican troops, calling the entire Republican House conference to the White House for the first time since they became the minority party to urge lawmakers to stand strong against a Democratic push to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

“We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we’ve got a troop in harm’s way, we expect that troop to be fully funded,” the president said, surrounded by Republicans on the White House North Portico.

“And we got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders. We expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people’s money,” he said, flanked by the House’s two top Republicans — Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

The pep rally came just minutes before Senate Democrats ignored a veto threat and pushed through a bill requiring the president to start withdrawing troops from “the civil war in Iraq” within 120 days, setting up a sure veto from Mr. Bush.

“Yesterday, I gave a speech, making it clear that I’ll veto a bill that restricts our commanders on the ground in Iraq, a bill that doesn’t fund our troops, a bill that’s got too much spending on it. I made that clear to the members,” he said.

In a show of unity, Republicans held together in the Senate vote, which passed 51-47. Just two Republicans, Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, voted to keep the deadline.

Republicans were vocal about their opposition to the bill.

“Surely this will embolden the enemy, and it will not help our troops in any way,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky criticized Democrats for wasting time because yesterday’s narrow vote means the president’s veto likely will not be overridden, which takes two-thirds of the Senate.

“I think the sooner we can get this bill … down to the president for veto, we can get serious about passing a bill that will get money to the troops,” he said.

The bill has languished in Congress for 52 days, and top generals say that if funding for the war is not approved soon, troops will begin to suffer.

Democrats urged the president not to veto the bill.

“Despite the reckless veto threats from President Bush, a majority of the Senate joined the House today in telling the administration that we need to set a deadline to bring home our troops from Iraq,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “A deadline is the best strategy for ending Iraq’s civil war because it forces Iraqis to stand up for Iraq. Guns alone cannot bring peace to Iraq.”

The White House said yesterday that Democrats are clearly playing politics.

“They’ve cobbled together a bare majority, using extra domestic spending for spinach and peanuts, and we’ve said it many times, tropical fish,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“They’ve used all of those tactics in order to get the bare majority. They’re not going to be able to sustain the president’s veto. And so I think that the best thing for everyone to do is if they really want to get this bill to the president’s desk, let’s do that, let’s get it over with and get the veto done,” she said.

Democrats meanwhile acknowledged yesterday that since they have no hope of getting a veto-proof majority in either chamber, they want to fight smaller monthly battles.

Aware that cutting off funds outright will anger voters, Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and Mr. Bush’s most vocal war critic, said that after the president vetoes this bill, Congress may consider passing only monthlong spending bills and continue its demand for timetables.

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