President George W Bush vetoed legislation to pull US troops out of Iraq in a showdown with Congress over whether the unpopular and costly war should end or escalate.
In only the second veto of his presidency, Bush rejected legislation that would have required the first US combat troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later. He vetoed the bill immediately on his return to the White House from a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, headquarters of US Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
Democrats made a last-minute plea for Bush to sign the bill, knowing their request would be ignored. "The president has put our troops in the middle of a civil war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Reality on the ground proves what we all know: a change of course is needed."
Lacking the votes to override the president, Democratic leaders quietly considered what might be included or kept out of their next version of the USD 124 billion (euro91.1 billion) spending bill.
It was a day of high political drama, falling on the fourth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on an aircraft carrier and his declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended. Democrats held an unusual signing ceremony before sending the bill to the White House.
"This legislation respects the wishes of the American people to end the Iraq war," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives.
Bush signed the veto with a pen given to him by Robert Derga, father of Marine Corps Reserve Cpl.