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Democrats send troop-withdrawal bill to Bush, await veto

Democrats send troop-withdrawal bill to Bush, await veto

Congress ignored President George W. Bush's certain veto and sent him legislation ordering troops out of Iraq and underscored the action with a Capitol ceremony on the fourth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on the war.
In the span of about two hours Tuesday, Bush received, vetoed and publicly denounced the legislation. Democrats, who had staged a dramatic and unusual bill-signing ceremony of their own, headed back to the television cameras to chide Bush for rejecting it.
"The president may be content with keeping our troops mired in the middle of an open-ended civil war, but we're not and neither are most Americans," said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.
Even as they urged the president to change his mind and sign the bill Tuesday, Democratic leaders quietly considered what might be included or kept out of their next version.
In a day of high-stakes political theater, Democrats held an unusual signing ceremony of the $124.2 billion (euro91.3 billion) bill before sending it to the White House.
For his part, Bush flew to Florida to meet with military commanders and said the Democratic proposal would turn Iraq into a "cauldron of chaos." With sleeves rolled up, Bush shook hands with troops before flying back to Washington, where he vetoed the bill and then made a national television talk about it just before the evening national TV news shows.
"This is a prescription for chaos and confusion, and we must not impose it on our troops," Bush said. The bill would "mandate a rigid and artificial deadline" for troop pullouts, he said, and "it makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing."
The legislation, a rare rebuke of a wartime president, would have continued paying for the war but also would have ordered troops to begin leaving Iraq Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pullout six months later.
Lacking the votes to override the president, Democratic leaders quietly considered what might be included or kept out of their next version of the $124 billion (euro91.1 billion) spending bill.
Bush said Democrats had made a political statement by passing anti-war legislation. "They've sent their message,and now it's time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds," the president said.
He said the need to act is urgent because without a war-funding bill, the armed forces will have to consider cutting back on buying new equipment or repairing existing equipment.
"Our troops and their families deserve better and their elected leaders can do better," Bush said.
"Whatever our differences, surely we can agree that our troops are worthy of this funding and that we have a responsibility to get it to them without further delay," the president said.
One option the Democrats who run Congress are considering is legislation demanding the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks or face the withdrawal of U.S. troops. To avoid another veto, such a bill would have to allow Bush to waive the restriction.
Party officials cautioned that no decisions had been made on follow-up legislation. Members said they first wanted to scrutinize Bush's veto response to determine whether he was willing to compromise and where he might be willing to negotiate.
On Wednesday, Bush plans meet with congressional leaders from both parties, including the two senior Democrats, Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives. Past meetings have led to no compromises, although members said this time they were hopeful Bush would signal a willingness to negotiate.
Until then, Democratic leaders were careful not to get ahead of the script.
"I don't want to get into a negotiation with myself," Reid said when asked about conversations with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"A number of Republicans think that some kind of benchmarks properly crafted would be helpful," McConnell said. Bush and GOP allies have said they would oppose legislation that would tie progress on such standards to a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.
"House Republicans will oppose any bill that includes provisions that undermine our troops and their mission, whether it's benchmarks for failure, arbitrary readiness standards or a timetable for American surrender," said the Republican leader in Pelosi's House, John Boehner.
Separately, Bush has complained about several billion dollars in domestic spending that Democrats put in the bill, including about $3.5 billion (euro2.6 billion) in disaster aid for farmers.
Some Republicans say they would support tying goals for Iraqi self-defense and democracy to the more than $5 billion (euro3.7 billion) provided to Iraq in foreign aid. But such an idea hasn't piqued the interest of Democrats.
When Bush announced a U.S. troop increase in January, he said Iraq's government must crack down on terrorists of both the Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects, equitably distribute oil wealth, refine its constitution and expand democratic participation. He attached no consequences if these benchmarks were not met.
Tuesday's developments came exactly four years after Bush's speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which had been decorated with a huge "Mission Accomplished" banner. In that address, a frequent target of Democrats seeking to ridicule the president, he declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
At the time, Bush's approval rating was 63 percent, his disapproval at 34 percent.
Four years later, with more than 3,300 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and Iraq gripped by unrelenting violence and political uncertainty, only 35 percent of the public approves of the job the president is doing and 62 percent disapprove, according to an April 2-4 poll from AP-Ipsos.
The anniversary prompted a protest in Tampa not far from where Bush spoke. "He's hearing us. He's just not listening to us," said Chrystal Hutchison, who demonstrated with about two dozen others under a "Quagmire Accomplished" banner.


Updated : 2021-08-02 20:15 GMT+08:00