WASHINGTON - A sharply divided House brushed aside a veto threat Wednesday and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1. The 218-208 vote came as the top U.S. commander in Iraq told lawmakers the country remained gripped by violence but was showing some signs of improvement. Passage puts the bill on track to clear Congress by week's end and arrive on the president's desk in coming days as the first binding congressional challenge to Bush's handling of the conflict now in its fifth year. "Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Republicans promised to stand squarely behind the president in rejecting what they called a "surrender date" handed to the enemy. The $124.2 billion bill would fund the war, among other things, but demand troop withdrawals begin on Oct. 1 or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks. The bill sets a nonbinding goal of completing the troop pull out by April 1, 2008, allowing for forces conducting certain noncombat missions, such as attacking terrorist networks or training Iraqi forces, to remain.
Democrats approve new subpoenas
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WASHINGTON - Putting their congressional control to work, Democrats approved new subpoenas Wednesday - and a grant of immunity - for probes ranging from the prosecutor firings and White House political activities to President Bush's justification for the war in Iraq. Democrats said the broad array of investigations represents a revival of Congress' role after six years of little oversight of the Bush administration by Republican lawmakers. The White House is pushing back, refusing to allow officials to testify under oath about the firings and arguing that top officials - including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, subject of one of the subpoenas - already have answered questions about the administration's now-discredited claim that Iraq was seeking uranium for a bomb.
High court throws out death sentences
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WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court threw out death sentences for three Texas killers Wednesday because of problems with instructions given jurors who were deciding between life in prison and death. In the case of LaRoyce Lathair Smith, the court set aside the death penalty for the second time. It also reversed death sentences for Brent Ray Brewer and Jalil Abdul-Kabir. The cases all stem from jury instructions that Texas hasn't used since 1991. Under those rules, courts have found that jurors were not allowed to give sufficient weight to factors that might cause them to impose a life sentence instead of death. The three 5-4 rulings had the same lineup of justices, with Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and John Paul Stevens forming the majority.