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New York Sun: Democrats Retreat on War Funds

EXTRACT: Ms. Pelosi endorsed toughening American sanctions on Iran by stripping the executive branch of the power to waive the sanctions. Her position would effectively establish a trigger to deny companies such as Royal Dutch Shell access to the American financial markets if they continued to work with Iran.

THE ARTICLE

Engel Emerges as Key Hawk
By ELI LAKE
Staff Reporter of the Sun
March 14, 2007
 
WASHINGTON — Two Democratic congressmen from New York City quietly intervened with the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to preserve President Bush’s authority to use military force in the gathering showdown with Iran.

The Democratic leadership had introduced language in a $100 billion bill to fund military operations in Iraq. The language would have required Mr. Bush to seek congressional approval before expanding military operations to Iran.

But in the past week, Ms. Pelosi removed the clause after a group of conservative and pro-Israel Democrats threatened to vote against the appropriations package if it included the provision tying the president’s hands.

One of those members, Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said yesterday he counted between 20 and 27 members who would have voted against the funding measure if it included the Iran language. Rep. Gary Ackerman, another Democrat of New York, said he thinks the dissenters had even more votes.

The change in emphasis for the House leader was not limited to the funding bill. Yesterday, at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Ms. Pelosi endorsed toughening American sanctions on Iran by stripping the executive branch of the power to waive the sanctions. Her position would effectively establish a trigger to deny companies such as Royal Dutch Shell access to the American financial markets if they continued to work with Iran.

The showdown among the Democrats, first reported by the Associated Press, discloses the fragility of the party’s 233- to 201-seat advantage over Republicans in the House of Representatives. Five House sources yesterday said the language barring the president from expanding military actions into Iran was initially added as an inducement for the more left-wing Democrats to support the funding bill that some argued had too many exemptions for allowing American soldiers to stay in Iraq.

But the effort to bring in the left flank backfired. Ms. Pelosi faced new opposition by the conservative “blue dog” Democrats and the informal caucus of Jewish members who have traditionally held more hawkish positions on the security of Israel, which Iran’s president has vowed to wipe off the map.

“I think frankly the Iranian regime is a dangerous regime,” said Mr. Engel, who threatened to vote no on the bill if it included provision tying the president’s hands on Iran. “The only way they will respond in a moderate way will be through pressure. While I do not support any military action against Iran, I do believe everything needs to be on the table in order for them to calculate that they have to modify their behavior.”

Mr. Ackerman yesterday said after Mr. Engel and Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat, bluntly said they would not vote for the supplemental funding bill if it included the language barring use of force against Iran, the caucus of pro-Israel Democrats and blue dog Democrats began an impromptu discussion with Ms. Pelosi in between votes in the well of the House floor.

Mr. Ackerman said he made a political and policy argument in favor of withdrawing the Iran language. “Most people think it would be a bad idea to attack Iran. Those of us who have thought it out, also think it is a bad idea to take it off the table,” he said.

He said he stressed that “everybody knows that you can’t start a war unless Congress acquiesces. But with this, you are going to lose votes, a lot of the Jewish members, a lot of the conservative members and many of the Republicans who would have voted with us on this but want to make sure the president has all of his options on Iran.”

Mr. Ackerman later said, “To her great credit, Nancy Pelosi made a command decision to take it out and try to convince everyone else on the merits of the bill. I think we have a very good bill. Is it the bill I would have written personally? No. But you have to get 218 people out of 236 Democrats, that’s a huge percentage to pass it. That’s the most important thing.”

In some ways, however, the Democrats remain doves on Iran. Yesterday the Democratic Leadership Council, which supported the Iraq war resolution in 2002 issued a paper on Iran calling on America to negotiate multilaterally with Iran to achieve a “grand bargain” and eventually normalize relations.

The minor victory for the most hawkish Democrats last week has earned some enmity from some liberal bloggers who have accused the Democrats who balked at the Iran language of being pawns of Aipac. One such blogger, M.J. Rosenberg, accused the Democrats of “yielding to pressure from Aipac,” calling the decision to remove the Iran language “sickening.” “Could even 2% of Democrats in the country favor giving Bush carte blanche to attack Iran?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, who is director of policy analysis of the Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group.

When asked Aipac’s role, Mr. Engle said, “When I objected no one from Aipac had spoken to me.” Mr. Ackerman yesterday said, “The leadership of Aipac thought the U.S. position would be better served without the Iran language. I don’t know they were lobbying anyone on this though.”

While the language tying the president’s hands on Iran is gone for now, it is possible that it could crop up again in the Senate, where Senator Webb, a newly elected Democrat from Virginia who was chosen by his party to give the Democratic response to Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address, has introduced similar language as a standalone bill. The Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va. reported this month that “Webb said he has won backing for his measure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and would likely seek to attach his legislation as an amendment to a spending bill now moving through Congress to fund the Iraq war.”

The main headline on the Web site of Moveon.org, an influential left-wing site, tells visitors, “Support Senator Webb’s bill to rein in Bush on Iran.” The site says, “Senator Jim Webb introduced a bill that requires the president to get approval from Congress before taking military action in Iran. Call your senators and ask them to support Sen. Webb’s bill.” The bill has no-cosponsors other than Mr. Webb.

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