Senate Democrats

Reid: In June, Democrats Will Continue To Fight To Change Course In Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following remarks today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

Over the Memorial Day recess, I attended a service at Southern Nevada Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.  I am grateful beyond words for the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform from Nevada and all across America.  In this work period, we will continue to do everything we can to honor their sacrifice with a responsible end to the Iraq war.

During the recess week, I had the opportunity to visit with many Nevadans.  The war was foremost on their minds.  They also expressed concern on the burden of record high gas prices, and the need to reform our immigration laws.  I assured them that those issues would be foremost in the work period ahead.

On the first day of the 110th Congress, Democrats introduced bills reflecting the ten priorities that America sent us here to address.  Last Friday we concluded a seven week work period, and we have taken action on seven of those ten priorities:

  • We passed the toughest ethics and lobbying reform in our nation’s history
  • We passed a much deserved and long overdue raise in the federal minimum wage for working people, which was signed into law last week.  
  • We attempted to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, but this effort was filibustered by Republicans.
  • We passed the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, after they had been pushed aside for years.
  • For the second year in a row, we voted to give the hope of stem cell research to millions of Americans who suffer, and will soon send that bill to the President.
  • We passed a balanced budget that restores fiscal discipline and puts the middle class first – cutting their taxes while increasing investment in education, veterans’ care and children’s health care.
  • And we began debate on the complex and crucial issue of immigration reform.

This week, we will vote on cloture and final passage of a comprehensive bill that will strengthen border security and keep our economy strong.  In the days ahead, we will work to improve the bill to protect and strengthen family ties while improving the structure of the temporary-worker program.

Following immigration, we will turn our attention to the three remaining bills from our original ten:

  • An energy bill that will take a crucial first step toward weaning our country’s addiction to foreign oil.
  • A reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that will address the skyrocketing costs of college.
  • And a Defense Authorization bill that will make critical investments to address troop readiness problems in the military caused by the President’s flawed Iraq policy. 

We will also reconfigure our national security strategy to better meet the threats and challenges we face today and the President is overlooking.

We have made great progress this year, especially when we have put our partisan differences aside to work toward common goals.  But all of this good work has come in the shadow of President Bush’s catastrophic, tragic Iraq war.  Ending the war will continue to be our number one priority every single day as the year continues.  May was the third deadliest month in the entire 51-month war.  June is off to a horrifying start, with 16 brave Americans killed in just the first three days of the month.

The President’s troop escalation is now complete, yet a New York Times article this morning reports that security goals are far, far short of the military’s hopes, with just one-third of Baghdad neighborhoods in some semblance of order.

In the midst of this growing chaos, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a new bipartisan report just before Memorial Day.  My good friend and colleague, Senator Rockefeller, deserves enormous credit for putting together this crucially important report.  It further brings to light the Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq regardless of the facts and warnings issued by the intelligence community and others.  The intelligence community foretold much of the chaos we now face.  They told the President:

  • That installing democracy would “be a long, difficult, and probably turbulent challenge” in Iraq.
  • That Al Qaeda “would try to take advantage of US attention on postwar Iraq to reestablish its presence in Afghanistan.”
  • That Iraq “was a deeply divided society that likely would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it.”
  • That the United States’ occupation of Iraq “would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups.”
  • That Iraq’s neighbors would jockey for influence in Iraq, “including fomenting strife among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups.”
  • That “some elements in the Iranian government could decide to try to counter aggressively the U.S. presence in Iraq or challenge U.S. goals.”
  • And that our action in Iraq “would not cause other regional states to abandon their WMD programs, or their desire to develop such programs.”

Clearly the intelligence community got it right.  And their warnings were not issued in a vacuum: perhaps the most striking finding of the report is this:  All the key Administration players were made aware of these warnings.  Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Steve Hadley, Scooter Libby, all key Bush officials at the National Security Council, the State Department and the Department of Defense were all on the distribution list.

The Bush Administration cannot hide behind ignorance.  Whether out of hubris or incompetence, the President and his men willfully ignored the experts and sent our troops to battle unprepared for the consequences.  Some might say, What’s past is past.  If President Bush’s prewar failure was a one-time event, we could leave it to the historians to study and judge the tragedy of his incompetence.

But even today, after nearly 3,500 American deaths, he continues to cherry-pick facts in order to paint a rosy but misleading picture of Iraq.  After tens of thousands of injuries to our troops, he continues to ignore the advice of the experts.  After nearly $500 billion of American treasure spent, he is still dreaming his way through this epic tragedy. 

The country’s eyes are wide open.  It is time for the President to wake up.  I understand that some Americans are frustrated that we have not been able to move more quickly to end the war here in Congress.  Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January.

This is what we have given them:

  • 75 hearings on Iraq. 
  • The Walter Reed scandal brought to light, and steps taken to make it right. 
  • A supplemental bill sent to the President that set a firm policy to responsibly end the war. 
  • A second supplemental that set benchmarks and voided the President’s blank check.

And our resolve has never been stronger.  With a razor-thin majority, an obstinate President and a Republican minority that continues to bow to his will, we are nonetheless making real progress.  However, under the Senate’s rules and our Constitution, there is only so far our determined majority can go – especially with our 49-50 disadvantage due to Senator Johnson’s illness.

We can only end this war if the President changes course or more Republicans join with us to force him to do so.  When we take up the Defense Authorization bill, we will not just work to correct the President’s neglect of troop readiness and protection, we will give our Republican colleagues another opportunity to join with us to bring the war to its responsible end.

We will fight for that every day this year, as long as the President and the few allies he has left here in Congress continue to defy the reality that the rest of us see clearly.  We owe it to our men and women serving overseas, the families who await their return here at home, and all Americans who want the Iraq tragedy to finally end.