House Republican leaders largely kept their party together on the issue of Iraq last night, with only four members breaking with their party to support a withdrawal of troops by April.
Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and John Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) were the only new defectors though Duncan voted against the 2002 war authorization measure. The other two GOP members to vote with Democrats were Reps. Walter
Jones (N.C.) and Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), who have consistently broken with their party on Iraq this year.
Ten Democrats, mostly conservatives, voted against the measure, which passed 223-201.
The lack of Republican defections meant the vote failed to live up to Democratic hopes to put additional pressure on President Bush on the war. That, for now, will be left to the Senate, where several Republicans have publicly broken with Bush in recent weeks and senators are to vote next week on a similar measure.
Republicans argued that Bush's "surge" policy needed more time, at least until the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, reports in September. But Democrats argued Congress has given Bush too free a hand for too long.
"For those who would urge we wait until September, it's been more than four years and more than half a trillion dollars," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We have a responsibility to create a new direction."
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Congress gave Bush the money for the surge only a few weeks ago.
"Just six weeks ago Congress voted to support General Petraeus and support our troops and their mission in Iraq. The general has only had all of his reinforcements in place for about three weeks and here we are 48 days later after we passed the funding resolutions having this silly debate that means nothing," Boehner said.
The bill calls for withdrawal from Iraq to begin in 120 days and finish by April 1, 2008, leaving only enough troops to fight al Qaeda, train Iraqi troops and police and protect the troops performing those tasks.
One new argument was raised by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who supported the bill but warned against "a blind commitment to arming and training Iraqi security forces."
A recent report from a liberal group found that many Iraqis take their training and weapons to the insurgency and wind up fighting U.S. troops.
The 10 Democrats who voted no were Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Chris Carney (Pa.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Vic Snyder (Ark.), Gene Taylor (Miss.), and Dennis Kucinich (Ohio).
House Republican leaders had expressed confidence their members would largely reject the withdrawal plan.
Boehner had criticized Republican senators who've broken with Bush as "wimps." He defended those comments yesterday, saying that he wanted to illustrate the absurdity of debating Iraq before the surge has been fully implemented.
The number of Republican defections was far below the 17 who broke with Bush on the surge vote in February.
The failure to get more Republicans this time could turn the head-scratching among war opponents in the caucus into
criticism. Progressives say they had signed on to a series of votes that would gradually increase the pressure on Republicans.
By fast-forwarding to a vote on withdrawal, some Democrats fear leaders may have struck too soon and lost their advantage.
Pointing to recent poll numbers, Democratic operatives are confident that Republicans who have consistently supported the president on Iraq will regret their votes in November 2008.
The decision to have a vote on withdrawal this week was made Tuesday evening and caught many members off guard.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the vote was moved up to coordinate with the Senate. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said leadership was "responding to the American public's deep concern that this administration has promised things for five years which have not occurred."
The House vote came as a new White House report showed mixed progress in Iraq and opened the door for renewed conflict between Senate Democrats and Republicans over the course of the war.
Seizing on the report's findings that the troop increase Bush ordered in January has not helped the Iraqi government meet key political benchmarks, Democrats pressed Republicans to join them next week in voting for an amendment by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to bring most troops home by next April.
"Most Republicans put protecting the president ahead of protecting our troops," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
In addition to the Levin-Reed amendment, next week will feature other controversial Iraq amendments that senators will offer to the pending defense policy bill, including one being developed by Republican Sens. John Warner (Va.) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) and another by a bipartisan coalition of 13 senators seeking to implement the recommendations of the 2006 Iraq Study Group report.
As more Republicans seem open to support the Iraq Study Group measure, Reid and other Democratic leaders signaled their opposition.
Reid is expected to file cloture early next week in an attempt to end debate on the underlying bill by week's end.
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.
© 2007 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp