Majority Democrats intend to maintain pressure on President Bush over Iraq in coming months, despite the president's veto of war funding legislation containing a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where Democrats failed in a 222 to 203 vote to have the House of Representatives override the president's veto.
As the House prepared for the unsuccessful override vote, Democratic leaders were busy planning strategy in crafting new legislation to send back to the president.
Majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters he hopes to have a new version within the next two weeks. That would be the goal in the House, he emphasized, noting that the Senate would also have to act.
On specifics, he notes that key Republican leaders have stated that a new measure should carry some form of benchmarks to hold the Iraqi government accountable for progress on political reconciliation.
One option Republicans apparently are considering is linking future U.S. assistance, such as aid for reconstruction, with Iraqi government progress.
Republican whip Roy Blunt made this comment to VOA:
"The political and economic aid would be the logical thing to look at," he said.
House majority leader Hoyer told reporters that Democrats will use legislative opportunities over the next four months, namely separate defense authorization and appropriation bills and House-Senate negotiations, to exert pressure regarding the future course in Iraq.
In sending Congress formal written notification of his veto, President Bush said it contained an arbitrary date for beginning withdrawal of American troops without regard to conditions on the ground, and tried to micromanage military commanders.
Knowing they lacked support for the two-thirds majority needed to over-ride a veto, House Democrats went ahead with an over-ride debate and vote, featuring familiar arguments.
Saying Congress will not support an open-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had these remarks on the floor of the House:
"I had hoped that the president would see the light, instead of turning a tin ear to the wishes of the American people, and a blind eye to what is happening on the ground in Iraq," she said.
Republican leader John Boehner countered that the rejected legislation would have strengthened the hand of terrorists, in Iraq and elsewhere:
"They have made Iraq the central front in their war with us, and if we walk out of Iraq, if we don't give this plan a chance to succeed, we encourage the terrorists," he said. "We will encourage them [and] they will be able to recruit new people all over the world. They will have a safe haven in Iraq itself."
Emerging from a meeting with the president later, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell agreed that a new measure should go to the president before the next congressional break at the end of May, adding that the president's chief of staff would meet with Senate Republicans on Thursday.
Describing the meeting with the president as very positive speaker Pelosi quoted the president expressed willingness to work together to find common ground.
While expectations are that Democrats will have to drop language containing a specific timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said a new measure should contain language that transitions the mission of U.S. forces and ends the war in Iraq.