Open Letter To Reid And Pelosi RE: Iraq Bill

[ Posted Monday, April 30th, 2007 – 11:40 UTC ]

To: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
RE: Iraq War Appropriations Bill

Madam Speaker and Leader Reid,

First of all, congratulations on your success in getting an Iraq bill onto President Bush's desk. While the news media keep trotting out the "Democrats in disarray" stories, you have debunked this myth by holding your party together on the most important bill you have faced so far. Delivering it to him on the four-year anniversary of "Mission Accomplished" was a nice touch, too.

Unfortunately, for both the country and for the troops in Iraq, you don't have the 290 House votes and 67 Senate votes you need to override the upcoming veto of the bill. So you are now faced with three choices:

(1) Don't back down, keep sending the same bill to Bush and dare him to sign it, or to end the war by refusing to fund it.

(2) Pass a "clean" bill with no strings attached, but not for the full $100 billion, forcing Bush to come back again and again for more money.

(3) Meet with the White House, hammer out the language they'll accept, and pass the $100 billion with as many strings attached as you can negotiate.

The first choice is what the loudest of the anti-war voices are going to demand, but it's not realistically going to happen. If you attempted it, some congressional Democrats are not going to support you, and the Republicans may pick up enough votes to advance their own version of an appropriations bill. Abruptly cutting off war funding, with troops in the field and no adequate withdrawal plan, is going to bring inevitable charges that "Democrats lost the Iraq War" and "Democrats don't support the troops" from the right. Cutting the funding with no "plan B" in place would be political suicide for the Democrats, which I believe the two of you are already aware of.

Which brings us to the second option. Forcing Republicans to vote on the record over and over again about Iraq may look like a good short-term political strategy, but I caution that it may be bad for Democrats in the long run. Doling out the war money a month at a time is going to annoy Bush and congressional Republicans, it's true, but it's also going to annoy the Pentagon. They'll keep sending generals out in front of the TV cameras to call Democrats irresponsible and to plead that they're having to shuffle money to Iraq from other important priorities. While the truth of their charges is debatable, the general public will get a constant diet of: "Democrats can't be trusted with national security." Over the long-term, this message will erode support among independents, just when Democrats are going to need that support for the upcoming elections.

The third option is not a palatable one, because the news media will attempt to portray it as "the Democrats blinked" (the news media's not very good with nuance and grey areas). But it is really the only politically viable strategy at this point. President Bush is, sadly, going to get his escalation.

On the positive side, you have already forced all of Washington into a consensus on a very important point, without even having to vote on it: September is the deadline for the "surge." Democrats, Republicans, and the news media are all in agreement on this one crucial milestone: if there is no marked progress as a result of the surge by September, the troops are going to start coming home.

For the time being, here are my recommendations for post-veto negotiations with the White House:


(*) Strip out the minimum wage bill and ALL of the pork. These were just added for political reasons, and should be the first things to go. If any Democrat in Congress who previously voted for this bill announces they will vote against it, then they were really just voting for the pork anyway, and not the Iraq bill. That's a shameful public position to take, and my guess is that no Democrat will want that much scorn heaped on them.

(*) Keep the extra money for the Veterans Administration and military healthcare. Bush certainly isn't going to veto a bill because he got more money than he asked for.

(*) The timetable is going to have to come out. This is a painful one, but Bush has laid down his marker on this one aspect of the bill. He's publicly stated again and again that he'll veto a bill with timetables, so that's going to be his starting position in negotiations. This doesn't mean you can't forcefully argue to keep the provision, or use Bush's intransigence on this as a bargaining point for other concessions, but the reality is he's just not going to back down on the timetables.

(*) The milestones for the Iraqi government will be the most contentious issue. This one may turn out to be a draw between you and the White House. If you can keep the milestone language, but allow Bush to get away with them being "goals" or "guidelines" or some such, you will still have won the issue. Media reports from Condoleezza Rice's appearance yesterday on CBS' "Face The Nation" have been mistakenly focusing on "no consequences for the milestones." I think the real story is what she didn't say. Here is the relevant quote:

"Well, when the president vetoes this measure, I know that he wants to have leadership down and relevant parties down to talk about it. We need to come together on a way to move forward. The benchmarks that are there are benchmarks that were set by the Iraqi government. So they're benchmarks that they know that they can meet, should meet. We've been working with them and telling them that our patience isn't limited. But the problem is, why tie our own hands in using the means that we have to help get the right outcomes in Iraq? And that's the problem with having so-called consequences for missing the benchmarks."

Notice that she doesn't disavow the benchmarks per se, but rather focuses on the consequences of the benchmarks. She is taking the negotiating position of: you can keep the benchmarks in the bill, as long as there are no consequences when the Iraqis don't meet the benchmarks. So hold firm, and leave the benchmark language in, even as Bush strips out the consequences. This means when the Iraqi government fails to meet the benchmarks, once again, it will be Bush's fault that the war continues.

(*) The one thing you shouldn't back down on is the language on troop readiness inserted by Jack Murtha. This should be your starting point for negotiations: Murtha's language stays in. Let Bush keep the "waiver" in as well, to give himself a loophole, but do not back down on this issue. How can anyone be against sending "fully armed, fully trained, and fully rested" troops into war? Forcing Bush to exercise the "waiver" with every group of soldiers sent just reinforces the message over and over again: "Bush doesn't care about the troops. Democrats do."


As I have written before on this subject [in January, twice in March, and again last week], ending the war is going to be a long haul, not a sprint. Although compromising with the White House on the Iraq bill is going to be a half-step backwards on the path towards achieving the goal, and although the hard left is going to berate you for doing so; all will be forgiven this autumn. Because that's when you really will be able to end this senseless American occupation in the middle of a civil war.

When that September due date rolls around, and Republicans in Congress start deserting their party-line in droves (they're already leaking their intentions to the media), you will finally have enough votes to dictate to the president what the American people are demanding: get the troops out.

Until that time, be sure to remind the voters over and over again: "Democrats are trying to end the war. The Republicans in Congress are to blame for not leaving Iraq sooner. Waiting until September is going to mean a lot more Americans and Iraqis die before the war ends, which is a tragedy, but until Republicans start worrying about their re-election chances, sadly... the country waits."


-- Chris Weigant


[Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.]

4 Comments on “Open Letter To Reid And Pelosi RE: Iraq Bill”

  1. [1] 
    fsweigant wrote:

    Good Post :)

  2. [2] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    Sorry, I have to disagree to some extent here. No matter what the Democrats do, they are going to be slammed by the press. This has been proven over and over; "Democrats in disarray", "Democratic Senators can't agree", "Democrats demand timetable", etc. These are just some of the frames the MSM have already used.

    The public opinion polls show that despite the media attacks and framing the public is behind the Democrats on the withdrawal of our troops by timetable, even if it means cutting off funding. The media attacks are not swaying the public opinion polls unless it is just to turn more people against the GOP and President Bush.

    The Democrat's should absolutely let Bush veto the bill, hold a press conference citing that Bush vetoed the will of the people, then send the exact same bill BACK to him to make him veto it a SECOND TIME. Why?

    Because even Republican Congressmen are getting antsy over the 2008 elections and how pathetic the opinion polls for Republicans are BECAUSE of Iraq. They can only hold out for so long and the MINUTE the Democrats fund Bush's war, the framing will be "the Democrats funded it, it was THEIR war!"

    The ONLY way to continue to make the Iraq war the Republican's is to continue to push timetables in the bill. This is NOT going to leave our troops stranded in the desert with no way home. It isn't. To even suggest that would happen is absurd. If the war is not funded, then our troops will have to be removed, and they will be, by the Pentagon.

    Right now, the Republicans are trying to find any way they can to make the Democrats responsible for the debacle that is Iraq. The public isn't fooled and the Republican Congressmen know it; they are sweating bullets. They have now flat said that if the "surge" doesn't work, they too will have to vote to get out of Iraq.

    It isn't working. It will not work. It cannot work. History and every General who isn't worried about their pension has said it will not work.

    The Democrat's cannot send any bill to Bush that does not contain the will of the people. Period. To do so is political suicide; the public will then trust no one; not Democrat, not Republican.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale --

    Two things. (1) The way the blog is currently set up, your very first comment is moderated, and from then on, your posts will appear right away -- automatically approved. I may have to change this later if I start getting comment spam, but just wanted to let you know (for now) the way it'll work.

    (2) The way I see it is this: the Republicans in Congress are indeed sweating, but I think they've agreed behind the scenes that THIS round of voting is where they're making "their stand" and "drawing a line in the sand" and all that malarkey. This is why they've presented such a unified front on this round of voting. But I think their leadership pretty much knows that the next round of voting is going to be wide open - with republicans jumping ship in both houses to vote with the Dems. That's when a real chance will exist to actually end the war, and not just make a bunch of noise about it. The question remains, though, will there be enough of them jumping ship to sustain a veto? They need over 60 in the House and at least 17 or 18 in the Senate. Time will tell (by this fall) whether enough Republicans have done polling in their own districts to believe that they can vote with the Democrats or not.

    I could be wrong, it could all play out much differently. I fully admit that - I'm just making educated guesses, not prophesying!


    [...and congratulations, you're the first "real" commenter to post here!]

  4. [4] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    YEAH! LOL...

    Oh, as are all of us (on educated guesses).

    But, the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner and they know it;

    1) They can't sustain the war as is, they are becoming poison to the public as a Party.

    2) They can hope and pray it gets better, but, they know it won't; it gets worse DAILY.

    So, that leaves 3) Make it the Democrat's war.

    They've tried, but, they can't get away from one little fact; the war is now 4 years long. But, FUND the war without any timetable, any consequence, NOW? THEN it is the Dem's war... THEY FUNDED it! (And make no mistake, that WILL be the framing if the Dem's do this).

    The Democratic Parties strategists are stupid. You frame it this way:

    - "President Bush is holding our troops hostage. If the war is not funded, they will be returned home. They will not be stranded without food, in a desert, as he claims; UNLESS HE STRANDS THEM THERE. And make no mistake, America, that is what he is threatening! He is holding our bravest, our heroes, hostage in this war, and giving America his ultimatum; fund my war or I strand them in the desert! Ladies and gentlemen, we ARE funding the war, as the public has demanded. It the President who is determined to kill our troops, one way, or another."

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