Vice President Dick Cheney singled out comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) as “uninformed and misleading” increasing tensions over President Bush’s expected veto of the Iraq spending bill that mandates U.S. troops leave Iraq by a date certain.
In an April 23 address at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Reid said that “winning the war is no longer the job of the U.S. military.”
In his speech, Reid indicated that regardless what legislation the Democrat Congress passes for the war, Democrats would not be responsible for the outcome in Iraq. “Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January,” Reid said. “But like it or not, George W. Bush is still the Commander in Chief — and this is his war.”
After breaking from the weekly Republican Policy Committee luncheon, which he frequently attends, Cheney told reporters that Reid’s speech was “unfortunate” and that the Majority Leader’s “comments were uniformed and misleading.”
“Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics,” Cheney said. “Senator Reid himself has said the war in Iraq will bring more his party more seats in the next election. It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage.”
Cheney also criticized Reid for changing his position on funding the war since campaigning for midterm elections. Cheney said Reid “has threatened that if the President vetoes the current pending supplemental legislation that he will send up Sen. Russ Feingold’s bill to de-fund Iraq operations altogether.”
“Yet only last November Sen. Reid said there would be no cut-off of fund for the military in Iraq,” Cheney said. “So, in less than six months time, Senator Reid has gone from pledging full funding for the military, then full funding with conditions, and then a cut-off of funding. Three positions in five months on the most important foreign policy question facing the nation and our troops.”
Cheney characterized the fight over the president’s veto of the war funding measure as a fight the administration has been waiting for. Democrats don’t claim they have the votes to override the veto. Shortly after Cheney left the Capitol, Reid addressed reporters. When asked about the charges of inconsistency the Vice President made against him, Reid dismissed them.
He called Cheney the “Administration’s chief attack dog” and said “I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with someone who has a 9% approval ratings.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) said the Democrats “all talk about this [withdrawal] in political terms. What we should remember is that these are our soldiers and they are fighting a serious war against a very tough enemy.”
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R.-Tex.), now chairman of FreedomWorks, said in a phone interview, “I think it’s very pointed of him [Reid] to say this is still the President’s war. He understands the danger of it, that they are in.”
“Basically, it’s like the Democrats want to take ownership of it and he’s disavowing that and I think he’s trying to tell the base ‘Lay off, you guys are running us into a blind alley. You guys are going to get us in trouble,’ Armey explained, “I’d put that down as a plea. I think he understands where it is going and probably sees it more clearly than Nancy Pelosi does. He’s a little less of the base than Nancy is. She’s from a different part of the world and she has a different perspective. I’m sure his Democrats in Nevada, I’m sure are a little different than her Democrats in San Francisco.”
On Monday, both chambers of Congress passed out final report language for the Iraq supplemental. President Bush has vowed to veto it because it contains both a date certain to withdraw troops from Iraq and pork-barrel spending.
To overturn his veto each chamber must vote to override it by a 2/3 vote. Before going to conference, both the House’s and Senate’s version of the spending bills were passed by only a slim majority. The House version passed 218-212, with one member voting present and the Senate passed it 51-47.
In an April 20 conference call with reporters Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) said he knew the chances of overriding the President’s veto was unlikely, but that the vote would help Democrats politically. “I think we can pick up some support on a veto override which, even if we don’t override, would show continuing momentum,” he said.
Levin said “we’ve got to have that vote on override to continue the momentum towards changing policy.”
Under Armey’s leadership, Congress successfully overrode two of President Clinton’s vetoes. Armey said it was important that when President Bush vetoes the supplemental he demonstrate two things to the public. “One, that he’s not going to tolerate the kind of free-spending earmarks and extraneous things attached to the supplemental. And two, that he is not going to accept Democrats dictating the terms of how he’ll conduct the war.”
Sen. John Kyl (R.-Ariz.), a member of the Republican Leadership Council, declined to predict if President Bush would parlay his veto into a high drama affair. “That’s something you’ll have to ask the White House,” he said.
But, he applauded the remarks Cheney directed toward to the Majority Leader. Reid’s speech “requires a response that is of the same nature,” Kyl said. “That is to say you’ve got the Majority Leader, so you’ve got someone like the Vice-President to point out the inconsistencies and the danger in his position.”
Kyl said the “most irresponsible” thing about Reid’s comments and the Democrats withdrawal strategy is the “concept that the risk our soldiers are putting themselves right now, as we speak, is futile.”