Democratic Rift Widens Over Iraq Funding

A rift is widening between top Democratic presidential candidates over how best to confront President Bush's promise to veto a war funding bill that includes any timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator making his second presidential bid, is asking his former colleagues in Congress to "stand their ground," directly challenging Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., on the issue.

Bush Renews Veto Threat, Edwards Calls Out Congress

Renewing his veto threat Tuesday, Bush told reporters, "In a time of war, it's irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds."

That statement prompted nearly immediate reaction from Edwards, who has not been shy about keeping members' feet to the fire over Iraq.

"If the president vetoes a funding bill, Congress should send him another bill that funds the troops, brings them home, and ends the war. And if he vetoes that one, they should send him another that does the same thing," Edwards said Tuesday in a statement released by his campaign.

Edwards' position on confronting Bush puts him to the left of Obama.

Campaigning in Iowa, Obama did not back away from recent remarks to The Associated Press that Congress would send the president a "clean" war funding bill (i.e., one without a timetable for troop withdrawal) if Bush vetoes an initial attempt by Congress to impose a timeline for U.S. troop involvement.

In a Monday telephone interview with the Union Leader's John DiStaso, a leading political writer in New Hampshire, Obama reiterated his view that neither he nor "the vast majority of Democrats" are interested in cutting funding for troops in the field.

Clinton Charts Middle Course

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has charted a course between that of Edwards and Obama.

Unlike Edwards, she has not publicly committed herself to insisting on a postveto confrontation with Bush. At the same time, she has broken with Obama by refusing to signal that Bush could get war funding without a timetable if he vetoes the current bill making its way through Congress.

The former first lady has also launched an online petition calling on Bush not to veto legislation passed by the Senate that would set a March 2008 timeline for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

By signaling Sunday to The Associated Press that Bush's veto pen gives him a path to war funding without a timetable, Obama has given Edwards and Clinton a rare opportunity to get to the Illinois senator's left in appealing to Democratic primary voters who want a swift U.S. exit from Iraq.

One of the factors that has propelled Obama into serious contention for the Democratic presidential nomination against his more established rivals has been his early opposition to an Iraq War that both Clinton and Edwards voted to authorize in 2002 when Obama was still a member of the Illinois state legislature.

Anti-War Dems Spur Obama's Comments

It is unclear how much traction Edwards and, in a more indirect way, Clinton, can get from Obama's reluctance to confront Bush after his promised veto.

But for now, supporters of Obama's rivals have privately enjoyed the way in which his comments have already upset some of the anti-Iraq War left.

Markos Moulitsas, who runs the influential liberal blog Daily Kos, wrote Sunday, April 1, that he hopes Obama's comments were an April Fool's joke.

"What a ridiculous thing to say," wrote Moulitsas. "Not only is it bad policy, not only is it bad politics, it's also a terrible negotiating approach. … Let me repeat that -- Obama just surrendered to Bush."

Jonathan Greenberger, Raelyn Johnson and Eloise Harper contributed to this report.

Comments