Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a message for the president Tuesday: “Let’s get real.”
President Bush, Reid said Tuesday in Las Vegas, needs to understand that “he is president of the United States, not king of the United States, and he has another branch of government, namely the legislative branch of government, that he has to deal with.”
The Nevada Democrat said Monday that he would back legislation that sets a deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops and eliminates most funding for the war after March 31, 2008.
It was a reversal of his previous stance that he would not cut off funds for the war.
Bush said Tuesday that such proposals “undercut the troops” and renewed his vow to veto any such bill that passes.
Speaking to reporters at the unveiling of a new readiness center for the Nevada National Guard, Reid fired back, signaling that Democrats in the Senate will proceed with their push to pass a military spending bill that includes troop withdrawal provisions.
“As the president knows, the Democrats have done more than he has for the troops,” Reid said. “We’ve provided money for extra body armor. We’ve made sure the troops have everything that they need, and we’ll continue to do that. The purpose of the confrontation we’re having … is for the president to change course.
“The present course in Iraq is not working. We’re losing troops at the rate of three a day. Thousands of people are being killed unnecessarily. And it’s important that Congress continue to put pressure on the president so that he’ll begin to change course on this war that has been so bad for the American people.”
In claiming American soldiers could be harmed by the Democrats’ proposed spending bill, Bush, Reid said, was “misrepresenting the facts, as he has from the very beginning when he manipulated evidence to take us to war.”
“The troops aren’t about to run out of money,” Reid said. “The independent, nonpartisan Congressional Reference Service says there’s enough money to go until July. His (Bush’s) own generals have said it will last till the end of June. So let’s get real.”
Reid said the Democrats were providing a check on executive power to which Bush was unaccustomed.
“The president has ignored the legislative branch of government for six years,” he said. “He hasn’t had to deal with them. They’ve been Republican-dominated and have given him anything he’s wanted. That’s not the way it is anymore. He’s going to have to deal with Congress, and this Congress is saying we need to change direction in the war in Iraq.”
Reid deemed “a failure” Bush’s recent increase in troop levels.
“It is not going well,” he said. “I do not believe there should be a single drop of American blood, additional blood, shed in Iraq. I do not believe there should be another head injury in Iraq of an American soldier.”
He said it was time to “take the training wheels off” for the Iraqi government.
“We’ve spent billions of dollars training their troops, we’ve spent billions of dollars propping up their government. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough,” he said.
Meanwhile, two veterans groups held news conferences in Las Vegas, one decrying Reid’s remarks, the other supporting the senator.
The top leadership of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars happened to be holding a conference at the Flamingo. Six of the group’s leaders on Tuesday stood before a podium and blasted Reid. George Lisicki of New Jersey, the group’s second-in-command, called Reid’s proposal “reckless and tantamount to waving a white flag of surrender to the enemy.”
Lisicki said the Senate should pass war spending immediately and on its own, then debate other issues and spending separately to avoid politicizing critical supplies for the troops.
“This vote by Congress was aimed at the president, but the ultimate target will be the men and women in uniform and their families,” Lisicki said. “The troops don’t do politics. But they do know everything about service, commitment and sacrifice, and they do know when they are being abandoned. I feel our troops today, as those who fought in the Vietnam War, feel they have been abandoned by our legislators.”
Lisicki was an Army infantryman in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. Most of the organization is made up of Vietnam veterans, he said.
“We knew up front what it was to fight a war where our country didn’t stand behind you,” Lisicki said.
“We know what it’s like to try to fight a war where politics were involved in the outcome. … We look at the Vietnam veterans memorial, we see names of all our 58,000 who died in Southeast Asia.
“We feel they died in vain. We can’t let this new generation look at a memorial and see names of men and women, sons and daughters who died in combat, and feel they died in vain also.”
Lisicki said the VFW supported the Iraq war and saw it as part of the global war on terror.
Later Tuesday, a group of veterans led by a Marine machine gunner who served in Afghanistan two years ago took the opposite view, offering support for Reid’s stance.
“Senator Reid is standing up for the majority of Americans who agree with him that we need to change course in Iraq,” said Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Elliot Anderson, a 24-year-old Marine Individual Ready Reserve member and state chairman of Democratic Veterans and Military Families Corps Caucus.
“The bill supported by Senator Reid will not hurt our troops in Iraq,” Anderson said at the US Vets Las Vegas homeless shelter, where he was joined by about a dozen veterans, including Purple Heart recipients from World War II.
Reid’s bill, he said, “would start the process of redeploying our troops while still providing for counterterrorism and for protection needs.”
Asked later if setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops in Iraq would play into the hands of militants, Anderson said that a timeline, instead, “will unify the Iraqis against al-Qaida. The longer we are there … the longer the Iraqi people are not going to bind together” to find a solution to their problems.
Another veteran, Michael T. Aupperle, who served in the Air Force from 1957 to 1961, said, “Our children now are an occupying force in the middle of a civil war.
“Our mission has been accomplished,” he said.
“We should come home. It’s not our responsibility to settle their religious war.”