Republicans yesterday rejected the Democrats’ plan to withdraw Congress’ 2002 vote to invade Iraq, while Vice President Dick Cheney said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not unpatriotic but plain wrong to oppose President Bush’s troop-reinforcement plan.
“There’s only one way to end the war, if that’s what our Democratic friends want to do. That is to cut off funds for the war,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “That’s our constitutional role, and we shouldn’t drag this into the morass of Democratic presidential primary politics.”
Key Senate Democrats are writing a bill to rescind the broad authorization to go to war in Iraq that Congress passed in 2002 and replace it with a narrow mission that would take all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008.
Drafted by two top committee chairmen, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the proposal would keep some troops in Iraq to assist with training, border security and counterterrorism but, Democrats hope, would keep U.S. troops out of what they say has become a civil war.
“The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq,” Mr. Biden said in a speech last week. The 2008 presidential candidate argued that the measure was predicated on the presence of Saddam Hussein as dictator and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But the White House said the 2002 resolution, which passed the Senate 77-23, is still effective because it gave the president authority to enforce U.N. resolutions, which call for stability in Iraq.
“The resolutions that we have seen since then certainly authorize a threat to the region that’s posed by instability in Iraq, and it envisions the United States forces staying there and bringing stability to Iraq and the region,” spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, is considering attaching the Biden-Levin plan to legislation next week on recommendations from the September 11 commission, which has already passed the House.
“It’s obvious that the authorization is outdated and needs to be reformed. But no final decisions have been made,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid.
Mr. McConnell, though, said Republicans have enough votes to block Democrats’ new plan from passing, leaving the new majority few alternatives other that withholding funding for the troops.
House Democrats are pursuing just that strategy, with Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, proposing to limit funding unless the Defense Department can meet strict conditions even Mr. Murtha says are unlikely to be achieved.
Mr. Murtha’s plan to hamstring the president’s use of war funds through the appropriations process, starting with the $93 billion supplemental bill next month, was considered a political compromise between the Democrats’ increasingly liberal base and its more moderate wing.
Some Democrats, such as Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and 2008 presidential candidate, favor cutting off all war funding.
But Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have said they would not cut off funds for troops in the field, and were pursuing the Murtha strategy.
The House has already passed a nonbinding resolution disapproving of the troop reinforcements, which would send 4,000 Marines to Anbar province to target al Qaeda, and about 17,500 soldiers to Baghdad to combat Sunni-Shi’ite violence.
But Republicans used a procedural maneuver to block a similar resolution in the Senate.
Democrats have complained that the Bush administration is attacking them unfairly.
After Mr. Cheney said Democrats favored a defeatist policy that would “validate” al Qaeda’s strategy, Mrs. Pelosi called the White House to try to complain to Mr. Bush, who was not there.
“You cannot say as the president of the United States, ‘I welcome disagreement in a time of war,’ and then have the vice president of the United States go out of the country and mischaracterize a position of the speaker of the House and in a manner that says that person in that position of authority is acting against the national security of our country,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Yesterday Mr. Cheney defended his characterization.
“I’m not sure what part of it is that Nancy disagreed with,” he told ABC News. “She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn’t question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment.”
Some military analysts have said the troop surge is the administration’s last chance in Iraq, but Mr. Cheney said that’s not the case.
“We keep trying until we get it right. I don’t think we can afford to lose in Iraq,” he said.