WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that she would not have attacked Iraq had she been president, and would end the war if elected, as she tried to blunt rivals such as John Edwards who are stoking antiwar passions in the Democratic Party.
Clinton (D., N.Y.), raising her voice at one point to be heard above antiwar hecklers, suggested that calls from Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, and others to cut off funding for President Bush’s troop increase were unlikely to win approval in a narrowly divided Senate.
“Believe me, I understand the frustration and the outrage,” Clinton said in a speech to the Democratic National Committee meeting that brought the party’s nine White House aspirants together for the first time.
“You have to have 60 votes to cap troops, to limit funding to do anything,” she said. “If we in Congress don’t end this war before January 2009, as president, I will.”
The comments were Clinton’s strongest against the war and signal an effort to confront one of the biggest threats to her front-runner status. As the Iraq war nears the four-year mark, she has been on the opposite side of the most outspoken antiwar activists who are a force in the Democratic primaries.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois reminded the party’s rank-and-file – twice – that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning.
“But whether you were for it or against it then, we all have a responsibility now to put forth a plan that offers the best chance of ending the bloodshed and bringing the troops home,” Obama told the audience.
Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, voted with Clinton in 2002 to authorize the war against Iraq, a vote he defended in his 2004 race but has since said was a mistake. Edwards is one of the most outspoken critics of the invasion in this campaign.
“Silence is a betrayal,” Edwards said, one of 11 times he used the word betrayal in his 18-minute speech. “It is a betrayal not to stop this president’s plan to escalate the war when we have the responsibility, the power and the ability to stop it. We cannot be satisfied with passing nonbinding resolutions that we know this president will ignore.”
Edwards was referring to a measure at issue in the Senate that would say lawmakers disagree with Bush’s decision to increase troop levels in an effort to stabilize Baghdad. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, another 2008 candidate, also criticized the effort as meaningless.
“I don’t believe spending a week debating a nonbinding resolution is the change that America voted for” Nov. 7 when Democrats won control of Congress, Dodd said. “With all due respect, a real bill and real teeth and real accountability is what is needed in our country again.”
Clinton said that although the resolution might not be perfect, it marks the first time Congress has stood against Bush on the war. “There are many people who wish we could do more,” Clinton said.
“You can!” came a call from a small gathering of activists from the peace group Code Pink. Others in their group chimed in, calling for a binding resolution that would end the war immediately, while some nearby audience members asked them to quiet down.
“But let me say,” Clinton said, her voice rising above the din, “that if we can get a large, bipartisan vote to disapprove this president’s plan for escalation, that will be the first time that we will have said no to President Bush and began to reverse his policies. Now, I want to go further.”
“Bring them home, then,” said a man dressed in desert camouflage that said “Iraq Veterans Against the War.” Clinton said she had proposed capping U.S. troop levels and pulling funding for Iraqi forces, but won’t cut funding for U.S. troops while they are on the battlefield.
Clinton Sets Goals for Donors
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.) is establishing record-setting goals for presidential campaign fund-raising, her advisers say, asking donors to raise at least $1 million for the honor of being in her top echelon of supporters.
That is 10 times the amount President Bush’s “Pioneers” were expected to raise in his 2000 race; at that time, the Pioneers’ $100,000 goal
was considered sizable.
Clinton adviserssaid the new levels would help achieve their goal of raising $75 million in 2007. At least $15 million is expected from New York, Clinton’s home base, the advisers said.
Several Clinton fund-raisers said in interviews that they expected dozens of donors to reach the tier of $500,000 – in part because of the star power at their disposal.
The names for each category are under discussion, advisers said, but such designations as “Hillraisers” and “Pathfinders” have been proposed.