Democrats Back Down on Troop Withdrawal

Reid: 'There Are Many Different Ways of Focusing on the Problems in Iraq'


May 3, 2007 —

A serene group of Democratic Senate leaders indicated this afternoon that they were willing to give up on forcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in the next iteration of a troop funding bill, after President Bush's Wednesday night veto.

In fact, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., insisted that "there is nothing that's off the table" in negotiations, he and his colleagues emphasized other provisions they would push and did not say one word in favor of requiring a deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

"There are many different ways of focusing on the problems in Iraq," Reid said when ABC News asked him about timetables for troop withdrawal.

"Timetables is one. Benchmarks is one. We could have waivers from the president. We could have waivers from the secretary of defense. There are just many different things that can be done," he said.

Reid noted that "there were many different things that were in our legislation that passed" that might survive in the new troop funding bill.

"We have benchmarks. We may need more benchmarks. We may need a way of enforcing the benchmarks."

Additionally, Republican senators are calling him about troop readiness, Reid said. "That is, how much training should the troops get before they go? How much rest should they get when they get back?"

Reid and other members of his leadership team -- Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- spoke today almost as if their last bill didn't call for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

"If our legislation stood for anything, it stood for two propositions," said Schumer. "One, we support the troops. Two, we must change the mission. The president's veto isn't going to change our two goals. We're going to keep at it. We're going to try new ways to reach a reasonable agreement with the president. We're not abandoning our heartfelt view that that mission must change."

White House Offers a Counterproposal

Earlier today Reid met with White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for about 45 minutes.

"It was a constructive meeting," Reid said. Bolten "came with the authority, he said, from the president to negotiate. … He had some papers in his hand. I didn't have any in my hand."

"That was part of the deal," said the laconic Nevadan. "The ball's in the president's court. He vetoed it [the bill], and they had to come forward with some proposals, and they did."

After the Bolten meeting, Reid called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Our goal is to finish this prior to the Memorial Day recess," he said. "I'm confident we can do that."

Schumer later said that he was impressed with how much the White House had seemed willing to negotiate. He had expected White House officials to request a completely clean Iraq funding bill, with no strings of any sort attached, and that was not the case.

The 2008ers

Speaking with the approving tone of a reform school principal noting four well-behaved juvenile delinquents, Reid said the four Democratic senators running for president -- Joe Biden of Delaware, New York's Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Illinois' Barack Obama -- were not impacting negotiations negatively, despite any possible pressure from the party's liberal base to be more aggressively anti-war.

"They've caused me no concern," Reid said. "They've caused the caucus no concern. They're respectful of the caucus's wishes. They've been constructive. They can kick and scream or bite and scratch out there politically, but they haven't done that within the caucus."

Reid was then asked about former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who says that Reid only has his job as majority leader because the American people want out of Iraq, and that Pelosi and Reid have an obligation to keep sending the White House a bill with troop withdrawal language.

"I care a great deal about John Edwards," Reid said. "I love his wife and his children. He's not in the Senate. I am. And we have considerations, all of us -- including the four senators who are running either with or against him for president. He has a platform that he speaks from. He doesn't have to cast votes in the Senate, we do."