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Democrats say GOP playing politics over Kosovo

April 29, 1999
Web posted at: 6:14 p.m. EDT (2214 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 29) -- Bruised after a House vote on a Democratic measure of support for the NATO air campaign in Kosovo unexpectedly failed Wednesday, House Democratic leaders Thursday accused Republicans of playing politics with international policy matters while the White House did its best to shrug off the congressional rebuke.

"I think that it's obvious that we are doing the right thing and we are going to prevail," Vice President Al Gore said Thursday.

Kosovo

The House's refusal to endorse the airstrikes carries no weight in terms of policy: The strikes continue. "If Slobodan Milosevic or anyone in Belgrade takes this as some sign of comfort, they will be sorely mistaken," said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

But the political impact of the bitter House debate was obvious. "I've now been out here for 10, 15 minutes and we've gone round and round on this subject. We haven't talked about what Milosevic has done," Lockhart complained at Thursday's press briefing.

Democratic leaders offered the resolution supporting airstrikes confident there would be enough Republican votes for victory. In defeat, they accused the GOP of being blinded by hatred of the president.

"I saw the repeat of the impeachment vote, the undermining of the president," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) said, "A majority of Republicans in my view are playing politics with our foreign policy and putting short term political gain over our national interests," adding that "the Republican leadership has shown an amazing lack of leadership."

The Democratic-sponsored resolution to lend after-the-fact support to the airstrikes failed in the 213-213 tie, despite the backing of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois). But 26 Democrats were among the lawmakers who refused to endorse the air campaign -- proof to Republicans that there are legitimate questions about the president's policy.

The White House says criticism that the president has not kept the Congress informed is unfair. Clinton has met with congressional leaders four times since the bombing started and discussed the Kosovo crisis in more than 30 public statements over the past three months.

The Senate is already on record in support the airstrikes so the White House thinks the political fallout will be shortlived. But at the minimum, the House vote was highly embarrassing to a president trying to keep the NATO allies unified.

Democrats: Vote sent mixed message

In another disappointment for the White House, the House voted Wednesday 249-180 to require Clinton to get congressional approval before sending ground troops to Kosovo. Yet two other proposals -- one demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region and another other for a declaration of war against Yugoslavia -- were rejected by wide margins.

Those four votes sent "a muddled message, and at worst a very negative message" to NATO allies, U.S. troops and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Gephardt said.

In addition to "playing politics with their votes," Democratic Whip David Bonior accused Republicans of hypocrisy, noting that just last week those same lawmakers "stood up with the NATO leaders, speaking in support with the NATO leaders," and "getting their pictures taken with the NATO leaders, then to go out onto the floor and to do what they did, it seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy."

Lockhart said the votes were especially contradictory since Republicans have suggested they may double the president's emergency appropriation's request to pay for the Kosovo operation.

"The House yesterday voted not to move forward, not to pull back, tied on what we're doing. The only thing they seem to be able to agree on is to try to double the amount of money we spend on a policy they're not sure what they think about. If we were worried about sending mixed signals, I don't imagine we should be because I don't think anyone can comprehend the signal they sent," the press secretary said sarcastically.

The proposal to bring all U.S. forces home failed by a vote of 290 to 139. The measure to formally declare war on Yugoslavia was rejected 427-2.

Rep. Tom Campbell pushed for the resolutions to test the terms of the War Powers Act. The California Republican said ground troops are imminent in Kosovo. "The framers (of the Constitution) were quite clear that war was too important to be commenced by the action of one single individual," he said.

Campbell opposes the Kosovo action and believes U.S. forces should be removed from the region.

CNN's John King and Ann Curley contributed to this report.


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ROLL CALL

Senate roll call tabling Kosovo resolution


TRANSCRIPTS

President Bill Clinton speaks on Kosovo (4-28-99)


VIDEO

John King reports: Clinton says Yugoslav initiatives fall short, but still hoping for diplomatic breakthrough (5-4-99) video Windows Media: 28K | 80K

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Strike on Yugoslavia

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