Work on the National Defense Authorization bill in the House wrapped up today, and there were high points and low points. Among the lows was that House members voting against stripping the “forever war” provision from the bill, essentially a reauthorization of the AUMF, by a 234-187 margin (20 Democrats voted against that, by the way). Also, the House voted that any terror suspects must get military tribunals and not Article III trials. Among the highs was the near-unanimous vote blocking the introduction of any ground troops in Libya. And there were dozens of other amendments along the way. David Swanson has a very good rundown. And you can see all the roll calls here.
But I want to focus on the McGovern-Jones amendment. This has been debated several times in the House; in its current incarnation it would accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. This was the first vote on the Afghan war since the killing of Osama bin Laden. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave it a huge boost by announcing she would vote for it this morning, in defiance of the Obama Administration’s strategy.
I certainly didn’t expect the vote to be this close. The amendment failed 215-204. Out of 186 Democrats voting, 178 voted to accelerate the withdrawal. And 26 Republicans joined them. This is the closest that any vote has come to repudiating the President’s war strategy in Afghanistan in ten years. A similar measure got just 162 votes previously.
“We’re trying to put some wind at the president’s back so that in July there will be more than just a token drawdown,” said Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, who expressed concern about reports that only 5,000 service members might be withdrawn.
“It’ll help empower the president to do what I think in his heart he knows is the right thing to do — and that is to bring this war to an end,” McGovern said.
I don’t think it will empower Obama necessarily. But it will isolate him. As Ken Gude says, with 26 Republican votes, this debate cannot be ducked anymore. Thanks in part to the tireless work of antiwar Republican Walter Jones, who co-authored this amendment, Afghanistan strategy is a legitimate subject for debate. And Democrats are really solidifying against the war. Yesterday Max Baucus came out against it, calling for a withdrawal by the end of next year.
The final bill passed by a count of 322-96. There are enough parts of the defense authorization bill still intact to draw a veto threat from the President; we’ll have to see what happens when it gets reconciled with the to-be-determined Senate bill. But the debate over Afghanistan has been renewed by this vote. It’s no accident that White House officials met with an aide to Mullah Omar recently. They know the clock is running out on the patience of both politicians and the public. They know their rationale for war, the safe haven argument, the “taking the battle to Al Qaeda” argument, looks ridiculous at this point. They know that isolation on this issue could really hurt them in 2012. So they’re looking for a way out. And it goes through the Taliban.
It’s poignant that this vote, the closest thing to a rebuke of this war we’ve yet seen, happened on a day that eight NATO troops, at least seven of them Americans, gave their lives in Afghanistan. I don’t know that anyone in the country can credibly say why.
Here are the 26 Republicans who voted to accelerate withdrawal:
Amash, Bartlett, Bass, Campbell, Chaffetz, Coble, Duncan (TN), Emerson, Garrett, Johnson (IL), Jones, Labrador, Mulvaney, Nugent, Paul, Petri, Posey, Rigell, Rohrabacher, Rokita, Royce, Smith (NJ), Stearns, Upton, Walsh (IL), Whitfield.
Here are the 8 Democrats who voted against it:
Altmire, Barrow, Boren, Donnelly (IN), Kissell, Matheson, Ross (AR), Ruppersberger.
Donnelly seems to think he’s running for Senate in Indiana. He will not be missed in the House.