Ignoring a presidential veto threat, Democrats in the US House of Representatives predict they have enough votes today to pass legislation requiring American troops to begin leaving Iraq by October 1.
Before the vote, the overall commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and other top defence officials will try to convince members in private sessions that a timetable would push Iraq into chaos.
President George Bush has promised to veto the bill, guaranteeing a historic showdown between the Republican president and Democrats emboldened by last year’s election that handed them control of the US Congress. They attribute their victory to voter disgust over the continuing war.
“For the first time, the president will have to be accountable for this war in Iraq,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said yesterday. “And he does not want to face that reality.”
The $124bn bill would finance the war in Iraq, among other things, but it would also trigger the withdrawal of US troops late this year. It sets a nonbinding goal of completing the pullout by April 1, 2008.
Troops could remain in Iraq after the 2008 date but only for limited noncombat missions, including counterterror operations and training Iraqi forces.
The bill, already negotiated with Senate leaders, is expected to reach the president’s desk as early as next week after a final Senate vote tomorrow.
“That means our commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take fighting directions from legislators 6,000 miles away” in Washington, Bush told reporters. “The result would be a marked advantage for our enemies and a greater danger for our troops.”
Whether Democratic leaders had enough votes to pass the bill in the House has been somewhat in question. The original House bill included a binding timeline that demanded an end to combat by September 2008. Several of the 218 members who approved the bill said they reluctantly agreed to back the binding timeline even though they wanted troops home sooner.
Many of these members said they would go along with the bill negotiated with the Senate in a bid for party unity.
“We know the votes,” said Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic caucus. “We feel very good about where the caucus is.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats will send Bush the bill in the hopes the president has a change of heart. Hoyer said they do not expect it.
“We are very, very hopeful that the president will sign that bill, will change his mind and come to the recognition that this bill does in fact set off a new policy for our engagement in Iraq.”
The vote comes a day after the White House and Democrats traded insults. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of personally pursuing a defeatist strategy in Iraq to win votes at home.
“Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics,” Cheney told reporters at the Capitol after attending the weekly Republican policy lunch. “Senator Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election.”
“It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage,” Cheney said.
Reid dryly dismissed Cheney’s comments. “I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with the administration’s chief attack dog,” he said.