Lawmakers send Obama message to end Afghan war
WASHINGTON — War-weary Republicans and Democrats yesterday sent the strongest message yet to President Obama to end the war in Afghanistan as the commander in chief decides how many US troops to withdraw this summer.
A measure requiring an accelerated timetable for pulling out the 100,000 troops from Afghanistan and an exit strategy for the nearly 10-year-old conflict secured 204 votes in the House, falling just short of passage but boosting the hopes of its surprised proponents.
“It sends a strong signal to the president that the US House of Representatives and the American people want change,’’ Representative James McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, said shortly after the vote.
Obama will begin drawing down troops in July, with all combat forces due out by 2014. McGovern and others fear that the initial reduction will be a token cut of some 5,000, numbers they argue fail to reflect that Osama bin Laden is gone and the United States cannot afford spending $10 billion a month on the war.
In an Associated Press-GfK poll earlier this month, 59 percent opposed the war, and 37 percent favored it, with significant support for Obama’s plan to start removing troops this summer.
“Five thousand on July 1 and nothing else, that won’t fly,’’ said Representative John Garamendi, Democrat from California. “That will create a great deal of anger.’’
In other congressional action yesterday, the House and Senate voted to extend the government’s Patriot Act powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists, acting just a month after intelligence and military forces hunted down bin Laden.
Facing a midnight deadline when three terror-fighting tools would expire, the 72-to-23 Senate vote came after three days of stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, who saw the terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights. The House passage followed, 250 to 153.
The measure would add four years to the legal life of roving wiretaps — those authorized for a person rather than a communications line or device — of court-ordered searches of business records, and of surveillance of non-American “lone wolf’’ suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups.
The White House gave assurances that the provisions would not expire even though Obama is now in Europe and would have to be wakened early to sign it.
Twenty-six House Republicans joined 178 Democrats in backing the Afghanistan War measure. Eight Democrats and 207 Republicans opposed it. In the Democratic-controlled House last July, a similar measure got 162 votes. The tally yesterday reflected the increasing exasperation in Congress with the costly war, even among more hawkish Republicans.
The divisive issue was part of three days of debate on a broad, $690 billion defense bill that would provide a 1.6 percent increase in military pay, fund an array of aircraft, ships, and submarines, and slightly increase the health care fees for military retirees of working age.