WASHINGTON – House Democrats on Friday sent President Bush the clearest message to date on his Iraq policy by passing a resolution that opposes a plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the war-ravaged country.
“Today, in a loud voice, the Congress of the United States said to the president: 'We need a new direction in Iraq,'” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., after the 246-182 vote.
The vote wrapped up a four-day marathon debate leading up to the vote. The Senate is expected to take up the same debate for a test vote on Saturday. The resolution vote, however, won't formally alter Bush's policy in Iraq or stop the surge of troops into Baghdad.
"The bipartisan resolution today may be nonbinding, but it will send a strong message to the president: We here in Congress are committed and supporting our troops,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on the House floor. “The passage of this legislation will signal change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home safely and soon.”
Bush pitched his plan last month to send an additional U.S. forces into Iraq to quell sectarian violence there, igniting opposition from Democratic leaders and some Republicans. But even some members of his own party oppose the plan.
The White House said the Iraqi government and the U.S. military leadership support Bush's plan.
"The president concluded that this new strategy was necessary in order to help the Iraqi government gain control over Baghdad, assume more responsibility for security, and pursue reconciliation of all of Iraq's communities," White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement.
Snow urged Congress to pass the supplemental defense appropriations bill.
"The president believes that the Congress should provide the full funding and flexibility our Armed Forces need to succeed in their mission to protect our country," Snow said.
Seventeen Republicans voted in support of the resolution while two Democrats voted against it.
"What we now have in Iraq is a defeat of the illusions of the Bush Administration that we will be able to create a stable, unified, liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Instead we have sectarian fighting, death squads, and a destabilized Middle East that threatens to be engulfed by the nightmare we have unleashed."
Republicans warn the vote will embolden terrorists and insurgents, and send the wrong message to the troops on the ground, while Democrats argue that the troop surge will risk more American lives.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., asked fellow lawmakers to vote against the resolution, calling it "misguided and dangerous."
“You cannot support the troops if you are undermining their mission and challenging their commander in the field,” King said on the House floor. “By opposing this new policy, the supporters of the resolution are clearly undermining our new commander in Iraq at such a vital time at the conduct of this war.”
• Click here to read about Republicans' reaction to Democratic proposals to limit Iraq war funding.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the House panel that oversees military spending, said he plans to introduce legislation that would end Bush's plan by setting limits on which troops can be sent and would prevent them from being sent back too soon or too poorly equipped. Troops going overseas for another tour would have to stay in the United States at least one year before being redeployed.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told FOX News that Democratic attempts to cut off funding would put the nation at risk.
"It's going to make us more vulnerable. Democrats cannot walk away from this threat," Hoekstra said. "They cannot cut off funding on a larger scale because it will make us more vulnerable but I think that's exactly what they are doing. They are going to slowly squeeze this funding and limit the president's options."
Bush said Thursday he hopes Congress supports the troops.
"We have a responsibility. Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to give our troops the resources they need to do their job and the flexibility they need to prevail," Bush said.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced that he would keep the Senate in session this weekend to force debate on the House-drafted resolution.
The decision means a delay in the scheduled President's Day recess, and will force Republicans to confront a "yes" or "no" vote on the president's new Iraq security strategy.
"It's a vote on whether or not Republicans support the surge," Reid said.
Reid said the Senate will consider the House resolution and no other alternatives dealing with Iraq. Reid has even given up on a resolution by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., that he championed two weeks ago. At that time, Republicans tied the Senate in procedural knots demanding debate and votes on a separate measure prohibiting Congress from cutting off funds for ongoing military operations in Iraq.
FOX News' Major Garrett and Jim Mills, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.