On the anniversary of one of the president's most infamous episodes of political theater, Congress and the White House tried to upstage each other today in a showdown over the Iraq funding bill, which mandates U.S. troop withdrawal as an attempt to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the war. With hastily arranged press conferences and a rare presidential veto, the legislative and executive branches squared off.
That the showdown occurred on the four-year anniversary of President Bush's premature "Mission Accomplished" photo op aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln was, Democrats insisted, a coincidence. Either way, Democrats sent the president an unwelcome anniversary present — a $124 billion troop funding bill that requires the withdrawal of U.S. troops as soon as July 1.
The president vetoed it, using what is only his second presidential veto. "Members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders," the president said around 6 p.m., shortly after a flight from Florida to visit Central Command. "So a few minutes ago, I vetoed the bill."
The drama had begun just hours before, at a rare bill signing ceremony where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., staged a bit of political theater of their own.
"With the benchmarks to hold the Iraqi government accountable, this legislation respects the wishes of the American people to end the Iraq War," Pelosi said. Added Reid, "As we know, the president has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. The reality on the ground proves what we all know -- a change of course is needed."
Democrats lack the votes to override the president's veto. So they will likely start crafting a new war funding bill to send to the president, one that will likely contain benchmarks for progress for the Iraqi government and U.S. troop readiness requirements — but no timelines for U.S. troop withdrawal.
"The president wants a blank check," Pelosi said after the president's veto. "The Congress is not going to give it to him." She said that she and Reid "look forward to working with the president to find common ground. But there is great distance between us right now."
Wednesday at 2:25 p.m., Bush is scheduled to meet both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. "I'm confident that with goodwill on both sides we can agree on a bill that gets our troops the money and flexibility they need as soon as possible," he said.
Added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "A number of Republicans think some kind of benchmarks would be helpful. Gen. Petraeus said he thought benchmarks would be helpful. Its an area to talk about starting tomorrow," said McConnell.
Meanwhile, Democrats filled the Senate chamber decrying the president's pronouncements from four years ago.
"I can think of no greater act of hubris, arrogance and denial than the declaration of 'mission accomplished' in Iraq four years ago," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who used the phrase "mission accomplished" 14 times in his speech today.