Update, 5:18 pm: Fourteen House Democrats voted no or not-voting on the McGovern amendment favoring an accelerated Afghanistan withdrawal today, enough to prevent its passage in a hectic day of Congressional maneuvering. Three of those not voting were strong antiwar liberals, Jesse Jackson Jr., Bob Filner and Donald Payne. One of the members, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was unable to vote.
With 217 votes, it might have been possible to recruit one more Republican vote, thus making the measure the first official Congressional opposition in the history of the decade-long war. The measure then would have faced the Senate Democratic majority with a challenge to go along with their House colleagues in sending the proposal to the president for approval.
The eight Democrats who voted no: Jason Altmire, John Barrow, Dan Boren, Joe Donnelly, Larry Kissill, Jim Matheson, Mike Ross (Ark.), Dutch Ruppersberger.
The close vote either represents an absolute House division or an example of sending a message with a tacit understanding that the measure would not take on official momentum.
The final vote was 204-215-6.
In worse news, the House majority voted to expand the current authorization of the war on terrorism beyond Al Qaeda to any potential terrorist threat. The expanded mission is opposed by President Obama and faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
In somewhat better news, an amendment by Rep. John Conyers banning US ground troops in Libya passed 417-4-11. A Barbara Lee measure prohibiting expenditures on permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan passed on a voice vote.
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Update, 2:11 pm: The House turned down the McGovern amendment on a close partisan vote this afternoon, 204-215. While 178 Democrats supported the measure, only twenty-six Republicans joined them, erasing any possibility of a bipartisan consensus to leave Afghanistan. The vote, however, is the strongest yet for McGovern’s initiative and sends a united Democratic message to the president.
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The Republican-controlled House will vote today on a measure by Jim McGovern encouraging the Obama administration to accelerate a timetable for troop withdrawals and an exit plan from Afghanistan.
On the surface, the proposal says little of substance. But a drama is unfolding in the shadows of American politics. If the measure receives a majority, or significant support from Democrats and Republicans, it may provide political cover for a significant troop withdrawal beginning in July. McGovern says that if his measure “gets a decent vote, it provides some wind at [Obama’s] back. Then, come July, he can do more than a token withdrawal.”
The politics at stake were foreshadowed in 2009, as described in Bob Woodward’s eye-opening book Obama’s Wars.
Since the book was published, hawkish Republicans have taken over the House, spoiling whatever earlier strategy may have existed among Democrats. But the effort to call for a timeline “from the Hill” is moving ahead.