WASHINGTON – Top House and Senate Democrats intend to move forward with a nonbinding resolution that calls on the president not to send more U.S. troops into Iraq to speed up the transfer of power there, lawmakers said Friday.
And one barbed comment from one of those Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drew another one from the White House, which responded calling Pelosi's words "poisonous."
"Americans have called for a new direction in Iraq," Pelosi, of California, told a group of journalists at the National Press Club in Washington as part of her party's lead-up to President Bush's State of the Union speech Tuesday.
"The solutions to the issues which divide Iraqis are political and diplomatic, not military. ... The sooner we give them the responsibility for their future, the sooner our troops can come home. That is why, Sen. [Harry] Reid, many House members, support the bipartisan resolution in the Senate that states, 'It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen our involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence.'"
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said, "the president's plan can be summed up in four words: 'More of the same.' ... I believe escalation is a serious mistake.
"It's Iraqis, not our troops, who should be walking Baghdad, trying to separate friend from foe. ... Only Iraqis can ultimately secure Iraq."
The Democrat-led resolution — which has gained the support of some Republicans — is expected to be brought to the Senate for a vote as soon as Wednesday.
"With that vote, our hope — really our prayer — is that the president will finally listen ... . The answer in Iraq is not to double-down — literally do more of the same — the answer is to find a new course that brings this course to the end," Reid said, adding that the vote will put the needs of America's troops first while no longer giving the president a "blank check."
Answering a reporter's question about the likely weight of the resolution, which does not carry the force of law but would make a public statement on the issue, Reid said he believed the vote would be "the beginning of the end of the present policy in Iraq."
The remarks come amid a blitz of Democratic chatter following Bush's announcement last week of plans to send another 21,000 troops into Iraq in an effort to stabilize the country. Bush admitted not doing enough earlier to settle sectarian violence ripping apart the country, and a temporary — although undefined — surge of troops primarily into Baghdad will give the Iraqis enough time to gain control of security and the government.
Bush administration officials said Thursday that they believed the Iraqi government and security forces could be ready to take the lead from U.S. forces in many areas, but admitted that there have been issues in training and equipment that could temper those advances.
The White House has been trying gather support throughout Capitol Hill for its Iraq plan.
Earlier this week, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for U.S. forces to speed up the equipping of Iraqi security forces, even as a new congressional report said that the Defense Department had not property tracked weapons distribution, and could not ensure that as many as 170,000 pistols and rifles had gotten to their intended Iraqi recipients.
Pelosi's remarks on Friday followed strong comments she made earlier in the day in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, calling the surge a "blunder."
"He has to answer for his war. He has dug a hole so deep he can't even see the light on this. It's a tragedy. It's a stark blunder," Pelosi said.
"The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources. That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way," she added.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino shot back Friday afternoon.
"I think one of the things going on up on Capitol Hill is a sound bite war," Perino said. She said that Pelosi was arguing that Bush's Iraq plans were political, a fact that she called "poisonous, and it's certainly not in keeping with the bipartisan spirit and civility that the Democrats pledged, and that we look forward to."
"We do have troops in harm's way, and they need to know that if we're going to have a debate, let's have a serious one, and let's talk about the realities of the plan we're trying to put forward," Perino added.
The White House efforts to sway Democrats showed little sign of success.
"When the president spoke the other night, I didn't really expect any detail. But I did expect more detail when I got back to the office. ... I don't feel any more comfortable than I did the night the president made his speech," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., after meeting Friday at the White House with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Sen. Bill Nelson, who attended the same meeting with Pryor and other senators, told reporters he still planned to vote for the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution.
Nelson said he believes that Iraqis must solve the sectarian divisions, "and until they start to get some kind of reconciliation, Maliki isn't going to be successful, and therefore, the entire premise of the president's surge would falter."
This week has seen a cavalcade of rivaling Democrat and Republican bills — both nonbinding resolutions and legislative proposals — that would either bind the president's ability to send more troops to Iraq, or, from some Republicans, would try to pluck Democratic fence-sitters in an effort to support the president's plan.
Among the Republicans who are favoring the Democrats' resolution are Sens. Olympia Snow of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Also considering support for the bill is Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon. Smith also is working on a possible bipartisan resolution that might not hit as hard as the one being pushed by Hagel and Democratic Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., echoed Smith's opposition to the troop increase but also said, "there are some things in the resolution I don't agree with, and so we're kind of looking at language," according to The Associated Press.
Another effort in the House was announced Friday, coming from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats. One portion of the group's plan focuses on limiting the president's budget authority through more scrutiny. Bush's preference for funding has been through the "emergency supplemental" process, which is outside the normal budget process. Members said the resolution will be introduced next week.
"Most of the costs of the Korean and Vietnam wars were on budget. The ongoing Iraq war costs must be too," said Blue Dog member Rep. Jane Harman of California.
With 44 members in their group, the Blue Dogs hold a unique position in being able to break a Democratic majority in the House. The makeup stands at 233 Democrats and 202 Republicans.