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Progress, One Gut Wrenching Vote At A Time


Yesterday, the Senate voted 50 to 48 to defeat a Republican effort to strip a phased withdrawal provision from the $122 billions Iraq supplemental appropriations bill. It was a significant victory for Democrats, who held together (see Times tally), losing only Arkansas Senator Pryor, while reclaiming Senator Nelson (Neb) and picking up support from Republican Senators Hagel (Neb) and Smith (Oregon). Here’s how the WaPo described the vote:

In [a] vote several weeks ago on a similar measure, only 48 senators supported the timeline for withdrawal. But today, the Democrats secured the votes of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

The vote came after the White House reiterated President Bush’s threat to veto any bill that sets deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In intensive floor debate before the vote, supporters of the amendment argued that including a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq — even though it is put forth in the Senate bill as a nonbinding “goal” — would hand victory to America’s enemies, while opponents of it said it was time to stop giving President Bush a “blank check” to continue a failed war policy.

The Cochran amendment would have removed language in the emergency spending bill that requires U.S. combat troops to begin leaving Iraq within four months of enactment and sets a goal of completing their withdrawal by March 31, 2008. However, the amendment would have left in place a set of nonbinding political and economic benchmarks for the Iraqi government. The benchmarks, originally put forward by the Bush administration, were added to the bill last week to win the support of Nelson, a key conservative Democrat.

I think much credit for the Senate vote should go to House Speaker Pelosi for pulling off an improbable 218-212 victory last week on a withdrawal deadline in the House version of the Supplemental Appropriations bill. That provided the momentum for the Senate leadership to pull in Nelson and hold together all but one of their troops despite threats of a Presidential veto, blustering by Cheney, and claims by McCain that the surge is already succeeding, while withdrawal “risks a catastrophe for American national security interests.” Ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman added that setting timetables would “snatch defeat from the jaws of success progress.” (h/t tommy yum)

CNN’s Michael Ware had a memorable response to Senator McCain’s claims that the surge was succeeding so well that one could now safely stroll on Baghdad’s streets. Given anti-American insurgents, terrorists, militias and kidnappers, “you wouldn’t last 20 seconds out there,” Ware explained. “I don’t know what part of NeverLand McCain was talking about.”

There are still dozens of other amendments pending on the Senate bill. But if this initial vote holds, the Democrats will go into House-Senate conference committee after both bodies supported some type of timetable for troop withdrawal, along with non-binding benchmarks the Iraqis are expected to meet. The House bill also contains US troop readiness provisions that Murtha championed.

No one yet expects the President to abandon his threat to veto any bill with withdrawal timetables, benchmarks or troop readiness conditions. Nor is anyone predicting the Democrats will suddenly find the additional votes necessary to override that veto. But the President must now pay a price for his veto, and his party may suffer even more.

As these votes pile up, the unified Democrats are not just moving to end this war. They are forcing the Republicans to cast one uncomfortable vote after another against the wishes of the American people. Republicans are being forced to vote over and over to support a President against whom the American people have turned in large numbers. They’re being forced to vote not only for an unpopular war but an open-ended war without timetables for getting out. They’re voting against provisions that ensure our troops are properly trained, equipped and rested. And they’re voting against holding the Iraq government accountable for meeting the political benchmarks that even Republicans think are essential for making progress. And by fully funding the President’s request to support the troops, and his surge, the Democratic bills removed the Republicans’ only argument that might have resonated with the voters.

No Republican concerned about the Party’s prospects in 2008 and beyond can be happy about the predicament they’re now in, and some must be in agony. The President and his war are dragging them inexorably into a declining minority, and sooner or later, they’re going to have to let go of both. I know the thought of funding the war is loathsome to many, but I’m convinced it’s not politically feasible to end America’s occupation while Bush/Cheney remain in office, so let’s hope yesterday’s vote brings us one step closer to ending this regime.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley