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Senate passes Iraq withdrawal bill; veto threat looms

Story Highlights

NEW: Majority whip says presidential veto is a foregone conclusion
NEW: Sen. Dick Durbin says other bills could carry withdrawal language
• White House says bill calling for troop withdrawal is "defeatist legislation"
• GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith side with Democrats in 51-46 vote
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is warming up his veto muscles after the Senate passed a war funding bill Thursday that sets a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by next April.

The 51 votes cast for the bill are nowhere near the 67 needed to override a veto, which Bush says he will deliver swiftly. The House passed the same measure on a 218-208 vote Wednesday night.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the measure funds U.S. troops in the field while acknowledging that the four-year-old war needs a political, not military, solution.

"No one wants this nation to succeed in the Middle East more than I do," Reid said. "But I know that after four years of mismanagement and incompetence by this administration in the war in Iraq, there is no magic formula, no silver bullet that will lead us to the victory we all desire."

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said demanding a withdrawal while U.S. commanders are claiming progress in pacifying the Iraqi capital would hand a victory to the al Qaeda terrorist network, which has taken root in Iraq. (Watch Republicans tell what would fix the bill Video)

"We must give the plan for winning the military component of the war in Iraq a real chance to succeed," said McConnell, R-Kentucky. "Without it, there is no political solution."

Thursday's vote was 51-46. Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon joined Democrats in supporting the bill. Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted with Republicans opposing it.

Two supporters of Bush's Iraq policy -- Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- did not vote. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage, also didn't vote.

The White House quickly denounced the outcome.

"The Senate has now joined the House in passing defeatist legislation that insists on a date for surrender, micromanages our commanders and generals in combat zones from 6,000 miles away, and adds billions of dollars in unrelated spending," White House spokeswoman Dan Perino said.

Senators make their cases

Before the vote, Lieberman condemned the bill -- which he said laid out "a strategy based on catchphrases and bromides rather than military realities" -- as a guarantee of failure in the war in Iraq. (Watch Senators argue for and against the bill Video)

"In my opinion, Iraq is not yet lost," Lieberman said, countering a remark to the contrary Reid made last week. "But if we follow the plan in this legislation, it will be lost and so, I fear, will much of our hope for stability in the Mideast."

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, argued before the vote that continuing the war defies the will of the American people and that the U.S. military "should not police Iraq's civil war indefinitely."

He defended the deadline to withdraw troops, calling it "the only realistic way to encourage the Iraqis to take responsibility for their future."

Recent polls show the war is now widely unpopular at home, with a majority of Americans favoring withdrawal.

"We hope the president will reconsider his stubbornness and his refusal to listen to the American people," Reid said.

But Reid's deputy, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, said that Bush's veto was a foregone conclusion, and the bill would be sent to the president's desk Monday or Tuesday. Durbin said Democrats would test the waters for any "dialogue" or "conversation" with Bush about a new spending bill.

Durbin said a new bill would be less "decisive" than the one passed Thursday, but he said its call for a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces could be attached to other bills -- such as the upcoming Pentagon budget or a defense policy bill.

About $100 billion of the $124 billion goes to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of that would go to Iraq, which Pentagon officials say is costing the U.S. military about $2 billion a week. It comes on top of $70 billion Congress has already approved for the current budget year.

The 218-208 House vote Wednesday night, largely along party lines, was well short of the 290 yeas needed to trump Bush. Two Republicans voted for the bill, while 13 Democrats voted it down. (Watch how the battle between Congress and Bush is nearing a climax Video)

The Pentagon has said it can fund the war through June. Without the additional appropriations, the Pentagon will have to begin shifting money and deferring projects to find the funds to continue the wars.

General: Effort may get harder first

Before Wednesday's vote, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus went to a series of private briefings on Capitol Hill, during which he argued against setting a timetable, according to both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who attended.

Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday about the briefing he gave to Congress.

As the U.S. military continues to administer its new security plan, troops will be moving into uncharted neighborhoods and there is a "very real possibility" that more U.S. casualties could ensue, Petraeus said.

"This effort may get harder before it gets easier," he said.

However, there is a "sense of incremental progress" in many areas that's often overshadowed by the "sensational attacks" exacted by the insurgents, Petraeus said.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said Thursday that Congress is using "the power of the purse" to end the war and compared the maneuver to how Congress ended U.S. involvement in Somalia in 1994.

"When the mission ends, the funding ends, and that's perfectly reasonable," Feingold said. "Gen. Petraeus will have the funding as long as we feel there should be a mission there, but there shouldn't be a mission there anymore by the end of next March."

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Sen. Harry Reid has asked Bush to negotiate a compromise if he doesn't agree that the proposed deadline for withdrawing troops is "fair and reasonable."


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