Jake Tapper: Iraq Funding & Kerry

In an interview several weeks before he voted against $87 billion in funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seemed to argue that such a vote would be reckless, irresponsible, and tantamount to abandoning U.S. troops.

On the Sept. 14, 2003, edition of CBS's Face the Nation, Kerry spoke at length about an amendment he and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., were offering which would have paid for the $87 billion by delaying some of the recent tax cuts.

Asked if he would vote against the $87 billion if his amendment did not pass, Kerry said, "I don't think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That's irresponsible."

Kerry argued that his amendment offered a way to do it properly, "but I don't think anyone in the Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves. We're not going to cut and run and not do the job."

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said her boss' vote against the funding was a "protest vote."

At the time of the October 2003 vote, "The nation had four months before funds were needed but Republicans were hell-bent on moving this bill through as quickly as possible, before the tough questions could be asked and the president's failures would be discovered," Cutter said.

Cutter went on to say the Bush White House had threatened to veto the entire $87 billion supplemental bill if the Kerry-Biden amendment had passed.

Political observers wondered, however, how effective Kerry's explanation would be.

"John Kerry has years and years of public statements — including recent ones — that the Republicans seem to have more thoroughly catalogued and at-the-ready than the Kerry campaign does," observed ABC News political director Mark Halperin.

The $87 Billion Issue

At the time of the CBS interview, Kerry was facing a strong challenge in the Democratic presidential contest at the time from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean — who rose in polls partly because of his strong stance against the Iraq war.

When the matter finally came up for a vote on October 17, it passed the House by a vote of 303-125, and the Senate by 87 to 12.

Kerry was one of the 12 who voted against the funding. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., also voted against the funding. Dean at the time seemed to support the Kerry approach, saying "if the president doesn't have a sufficient commitment to this operation to get rid of the $87 billion in tax cuts then we should vote no."

But Senate Democrats overwhelmingly took the other side of the issue. Biden, the co-sponsor of Kerry's amendment and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted for the funding, saying, "the cost of failure in Iraq would far exceed the price of peace." In a Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who also voted for the funding, said, "I don't know how John Kerry and John Edwards can say they supported the war but then opposed the funding for the troops who went to fight the war that the resolution that they supported authorized."

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