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Bush vetoes war-funding bill with withdrawal timetable

Story Highlights

Pelosi says president won't get "blank check" from Congress
• President Bush vetoes $124 billion war spending measure
• Bill includes timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops
• Veto comes on fourth anniversary of aircraft-carrier speech
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four years to the day after standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declaring "major combat operations" in Iraq were over, President Bush on Tuesday vetoed a war-spending bill that calls for the start of a withdrawal of American combat troops from the conflict.

"It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing. All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars. ... Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible," Bush said in a televised address after the veto.

"I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war," Bush said. "They've sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need." (Watch Bush explain why he vetoed the bill Video)

The president invited the congressional leadership to the White House on Wednesday to discuss a compromise.

After the speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the ball was now in Bush's court.

"Now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war," Reid said.

"If the president thinks [that] by vetoing this bill he'll stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken," Reid added.

Standing beside Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said: "The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him."

Both Democratic leaders said they would discuss a compromise.

"We look forward to working with the president to find common ground," Pelosi said. "But there is great distance between us right now." (Watch Democratic leaders speak at signing ceremony Video)

Before sending the bill to the president Tuesday afternoon, Democratic congressional leaders urged Bush to sign the bill and begin winding down the war.

"A veto means denying our troops the resources and the strategy they need," Reid said earlier in the day. "After more than four years of a failed policy, it's time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future."

The spending bill, which Congress passed last week, funds military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it also calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning in October, with the goal of getting all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by the end of March 2008.

Administration officials have said the money is urgently needed -- and that Democrats would be to blame for any hardships suffered by U.S. troops and their families. But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has concluded that the Pentagon could wage war through July without additional funding.

Bush and his Republican allies in Congress call the withdrawal timetable contained in the bill an admission of defeat.

Bush declared an end to "major combat" in Iraq in a May 1, 2003, speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. However, U.S. troops have been battling an ongoing insurgency since then, and more than 3,300 Americans have died in Iraq since that address. (Watch how things have changed since that speech Video)

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino accused congressional Democrats of "a trumped-up political stunt" by sending the bill to the president on the anniversary of his speech.

Bush: Failure 'unacceptable to the civilized world'

The president returned to Washington on Tuesday afternoon after a visit to U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, outside Tampa, Florida.

He told American and allied military officers there that a U.S. failure in the four-year-old war "should be unacceptable to the civilized world."

Bush said the current push to pacify Baghdad and the western province of Anbar has produced progress, but will need several months to succeed.

He said the United States and its allies were faced with a choice at the end of 2006 -- tamp down the wave of sectarian killings that followed the February 2006 bombing of the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra, a revered Shiite Muslim shrine, or withdraw.

"Withdrawal would have increased the probability that coalition troops would be forced to return to Iraq one day and confront an enemy that is even more dangerous," Bush said. "Failure in Iraq should be unacceptable to the civilized world. The risks are enormous."

The war is now widely unpopular at home, with 32 percent of Americans in a recent CNN poll supporting the conflict and 60 percent siding with Congress on the issue.

The veto is the second of Bush's presidency. The first, in July 2006, killed a bill that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

New bill in the works

A compromise bill being worked on would strip out the troop removal language and replace it with a series of benchmarks to measure the progress of the Iraqi government.

The benchmarks would include passing laws related to the sharing of oil revenue and national reconciliation and reducing sectarian violence -- benchmarks that Bush himself has publicly pressed the Iraqis to meet.

However, the big question facing lawmakers and the White House is what happens if those benchmarks aren't met.

Many Democrats and some Republicans support setting out consequences, but the White House opposes the idea, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday would "tie our own hands" and reduce the United States' "flexibility" in Iraq.

A senior Republican lawmaker, working behind the scenes with senators from both parties, has suggested a possible way to bridge that gap -- requiring troops to be withdrawn if the benchmarks aren't met but allowing the president to waive that requirement if he chooses.

CNN's Dana Bash and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


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President Bush's veto of the war funding bill is the second veto of his presidency.

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