Bush Vetoes Troop-Withdrawal Bill In Historic Iraq Showdown With Democratic Congress

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 12:40 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush vetoed legislation to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq Tuesday night in a historic showdown with Congress over whether the unpopular and costly war should end or escalate.

In only the second veto of his presidency, Bush rejected legislation that would require the first U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later.

He vetoed the bill immediately upon his return to the White House from a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, including Iraq.

He was to comment on television at 6:10 p.m. EDT.

Democrats made a last-minute plea for Bush to sign the bill, knowing their request would be ignored. ``The president has put our troops in the middle of a civil war,'' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. ``Reality on the ground proves what we all know: A change of course is needed.''

Lacking the votes to override the president, Democratic leaders quietly considered what might be included or kept out of their next version of the $124 billion spending bill.

It was a day of high political drama, falling on the fourth anniversary of Bush's ``Mission Accomplished'' speech and his declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended. Democrats held an unusual signing ceremony of their own before sending the bill to the White House.

``This legislation respects the wishes of the American people to end the Iraq war,'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Bush signed the veto with a pen given to him by Robert Derga, the father of Marine Corps Reserve Cpl. Dustin Derga, who was killed in Iraq on May 8, 2005. The elder Derga spoke with Bush two weeks ago at a meeting the president had with military families at the White House.

Derga, whose son was with a unit from Columbus, Ohio, asked Bush to promise to use the pen in his veto. On Tuesday, Derga contacted the White House to remind Bush to use the pen, and so he did.

Minutes after Bush vetoed the bill, an anti-war demonstrator stood outside the White House with a bullhorn: ``How many more must die? How many more must die?''

One option Congress is considering for follow-up legislation would demand the Iraqi government meet certain benchmarks or face the withdrawal of U.S. troops. To avoid another veto, such a bill would have to allow Bush to waive the restriction.

Democratic officials cautioned that no decisions had been made on a next step. Lawmakers said they first wanted to scrutinize Bush's veto response to determine whether he was willing to compromise and where he might be willing to negotiate.

On Wednesday, Bush plans meet with congressional leaders from both parties, including Reid, D-Nev., and Pelosi, D-Calif. Past meetings have not led to any compromises, although members said this time they were hopeful Bush would signal a willingness to negotiate.

Until then, Democratic leaders were careful not to get ahead of the script.

``I don't want to get into a negotiation with myself,'' Reid said when asked about conversations with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

McConnell and other Republicans have said they would agree to provisions that lay out standards for the Iraqi government to meet in creating a more stable and democratic society.

``A number of Republicans think that some kind of benchmarks properly crafted would be helpful,'' McConnell said. Bush and GOP allies have said they will oppose legislation that ties progress on such standards to a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.

``House Republicans will oppose any bill that includes provisions that undermine our troops and their mission, whether it's benchmarks for failure, arbitrary readiness standards or a timetable for American surrender,'' said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Separately, Bush has complained about several billion dollars in domestic spending that Democrats put in the bill, including about $3.5 billion in disaster aid for farmers.

Some Republicans say they would support tying goals for Iraqi self-defense and democracy to the more than $5 billion provided to Iraq in foreign aid. But such an idea hasn't piqued the interest of Democrats.

When Bush announced a U.S. troop increase in January, he said Iraq's government must crack down on both Shiites and Sunnis, equitably distribute oil wealth, refine its constitution and expand democratic participation. He attached no consequences if these benchmarks were not met.

Tuesday's developments came exactly four years after Bush's speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln decorated with a huge ``Mission Accomplished'' banner. In that address, a frequent target of Democrats seeking to ridicule the president, he declared that ``major combat operations in Iraq have ended.''

At the time, Bush's approval rating was 63 percent, with the public's disapproval at 34 percent.

Four years later, with over 3,300 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and the country gripped by unrelenting violence and political uncertainty, only 35 percent of the public approves of the job the president is doing, while 62 percent disapprove, according to an April 2-4 poll from AP-Ipsos.

The anniversary prompted a protest in Tampa not far from where Bush spoke. ``He's hearing us. He's just not listening to us,'' said Chrystal Hutchison, who demonstrated with about two dozen others under a ``Quagmire Accomplished'' banner.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker acknowledged Tuesday that there ``is something of an al-Qaida surge going on'' in Iraq, with the group using suicide car bombs as its principal weapons, but he said that doesn't mean the U.S.-Iraqi campaign isn't working.

``We're just fighting at a number of levels here against a number of different enemies,'' Crocker told reporters during a videoconference from Baghdad.