WASHINGTON — White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama told the Sun-Times Thursday he never suggested that Democrats should send President Bush an Iraq war funding bill without a timeline for withdrawing troops if Bush vetoes legislation with deadlines.
On April 1, Obama gave the Associated Press an interview interpreted by anti-war blogs — and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), another presidential contender — as giving up the fight to force Bush to wind down the war by inserting deadlines in the war supplemental funding bill.
At present, Senate Democrats don’t have the 67 votes it takes to override a veto.
Obama in the AP story said no lawmaker “wants to play chicken with our troops. … My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course…. I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”
By Sunday night, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the influential Daily Kos blog, excoriated Obama. “What a ridiculous thing to say. Not only is it bad policy, not only is it bad politics, it’s also a terrible negotiating approach.”
On Wednesday, McCain — doing Obama no favor — invoked Obama’s name in urging Democrats to send the president the no-strings Iraq funding bill he wants.
Obama may have been seen as off-message because the emerging Democratic strategy is to yield no ground to Bush. Party leader Rahm Emanuel advised colleagues to crank up pressure on Bush to force him to negotiate.
I asked Obama on Thursday to explain his comments.
“What I said was it was unlikely we could generate the votes to override a veto. And I said that I don’t believe any Democrat wants to play chicken with the troops, put them in a situation where they don’t have the equipment they need to come home safely. That does not mean that our only alternative is to send a carte blanche to the president.”
Obama said there are “options that we are looking at now” if there were a veto — shortening the time frame for funding, for example — that would keep “this administration on a shorter leash.”