President to get war spending bill on untimely day
He touted 'mission accomplished' exactly 4 years ago
(05-01) 04:00 PDT Washington
-- Democrats swear it's a coincidence that President Bush will get their bill calling for U.S. forces to be withdrawn from Iraq today on the fourth anniversary of his "mission accomplished'' ceremony after Saddam Hussein was ousted.
Intentional symbolism or not, Bush is expected to veto the $124 billion spending bill as soon as today. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled House said they will respond quickly with a vote to try to override the veto, which everyone expects will fail by a wide margin as Republicans remain mainly united behind their president. The Senate apparently won't even schedule an override vote.
After that, talks will intensify on sending a new war spending bill to the president, one that he can sign, but could also satisfy the demands of anti-war Democrats. Bush and congressional leaders are scheduled to meet at the White House on Wednesday.
In such an intense atmosphere, analysts find it hard to believe that Democratic leaders were unaware that May 1 marks the fourth anniversary of Bush flying onto the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off San Diego in the co-pilot seat of a Navy S-3B Viking to declare the successful end of military operations in Iraq.
The "Mission Accomplished'' banner that hung behind Bush as he addressed the nation four years ago "is a counterpoint to him standing with the firemen in New York on 9/11," said Julian Zelizer, a congressional expert at Boston University. Democrats want voters to focus on Bush's management of the unpopular war, not the president's initial response to the terrorist attacks, he said.
The events of May 1, 2003, "became a symbol, a visual image of the failure of the president. What was once a triumph became a reminder of his failures,'' Zelizer said.
Since that day four years ago, about 3,000 American military personnel have been killed in what has morphed into an Iraqi civil war, along with uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis.
But Democrats said they aren't sending Bush the spending bill on the anniversary intentionally.
The Senate on Thursday gave final approval to the legislation, which would pay for the war through September and set a nonbinding goal of withdrawing almost all U.S. forces from Iraq by March 2008. A final version of the legislation of well more than 100 pages had to be prepared and "engrossed and enrolled,'' printed at least partially on parchment and signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., before it could be sent to the White House.
Pelosi would have signed the bill on Monday so Bush could have gotten it the same day, her spokesman Brendan Daly said, but the speaker was in Los Angeles with many other House members for the funeral of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Carson (Los Angeles County).
"It is what it is,'' Daly said of the timing.
"If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you,'' said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University.
O'Connor said politicians are careful students of symbolism and use symbols to set the political agenda. She said she simply couldn't believe Democrats would pass up the opportunity to contrast Bush's optimism of four years ago with the ensuing years of war.
"Anything that outlines the irony of the situation is agenda-setting,'' she said, and Democrats will use the connection to Bush's landing on the carrier four years ago to drive home their opposition to the continuing war.
Republicans may have used a similar technique on Wednesday, although they, too, deny it, when it so happened that Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus came to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress on progress in Iraq on the same day the House was voting to get out. Republicans used the briefing to argue that Democrats wanted to surrender in Iraq and weren't supporting the general and his troops.
All the maneuvering will lead to the next chapter of the fight after Bush's veto. David Rohde, political scientist at Duke University, said he thinks Bush will hang tough and continue to refuse to accept a withdrawal date in the current spending bill.
"It's very likely the president will get a (bill) without dates,'' he said. But Rohde predicted that Democrats will persist in sending up other legislation that will try to force a withdrawal from Iraq.
"Democrats have to be careful to show they're supporting the troops while opposing the war,'' he said.
Zelizer predicted a compromise on the current fight, perhaps language calling for Iraqi forces to take over more of the fighting.
"Democrats have to come out of this with some symbolic victory at least,'' he said. "They can't just say they voted against the president. They have to show they legislated against the president.''
The White House has sent mostly hard-line signals on compromise. On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shot down the idea of tying $5 billion in foreign aid to the Iraqi government to benchmarks, an idea floated by House GOP leaders.
On Monday, Bush said he thinks there are Democrats he can work with to get a bill without a troop withdrawal deadline. "I believe that there's a lot of Democrats that understand that we need to get the money to the troops as soon as possible, and so I'm optimistic we can get something done in a positive way,'' he said.
President to get war spending bill on untimely day / He touted 'mission accomplished' exactly 4 years ago