TUCSON - Congress must stand up to President Bush over funding for the Iraqi war that includes a timetable for withdrawal, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told a rally in a labor union hall here Thursday.
Wrapping up a two-day swing through the West, including several fundraisers, Edwards said he believes "it is the responsibility of the Congress to stand its ground on this."
Edwards said Congress should send Bush, who vetoed a spending bill on Tuesday that contained a timeline for withdrawal, another funding bill with a timetable "and if he vetoes that one, they should send him another."
He added: "This is about life and death. We have young men and women dying in Iraq... the American people have given us a mission, and that mission is to end this war in Iraq."
Afterward, Edwards told reporters that "what happens in Iraq is entirely dependent on the Iraqi people themselves" once Americans leave. "If the Sunni and Shia continue to engage in political conflict there will be violence." If they reach a political reconciliation, the violence will be squelched, he added.
As for having a special responsibility because of having gone to war there, Edwards said, "We've spent $500 billion there, we've lost thousands of lives, we have many, many thousands more who have been permanently injured. We've done an awful lot to meet our responsibility."
Edwards spent most of a 45-minute appearance fielding questions from many in an audience of more than 300 squeezed into the Local 741 Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall after making brief remarks about Iraq.
The four dominant issues facing the country and the world, he said, are Iraq, global warming - including energy conservation and developing renewable sources - health care and poverty.
He focused on the need to reduce energy consumption and curb carbon dioxide emissions and to greatly increase investment in renewable energy resources and in developing the world's most fuel-efficient cars - "built by union workers."
"I believe it is time for the president to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than war," Edwards said.
For several years, Arizona has been the focal point for illegal immigration, with a large Border Patrol building of agents and resources, but Edwards said more is needed.
"Our border is not secure, we've done a terrible job, and I think it's going to require a lot more people, a lot more money, a lot more resources, better use of technology, because we can't sustain what's happening now on our southern border."
He gave no figure on how many more Border Patrol agents are needed. The agency, with 12,000 agents nationwide, is seeking to grow to 18,000 by the end of 2008.
Edwards also said there must be comprehensive immigration law reform, including a path to earned citizenship for most of the 11 million to 12 million immigrants now in the country illegally.
Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, trails party rivals Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama in raising money and in the polls, and he has tried to fashion himself as the leading voice against the Iraq war.
His stance on the war in Iraq garnered him the endorsement of a southern Arizona congressman and three Democratic state legislators on Thursday.
"I strongly believe that John Edwards is the right man for the Democrats to nominate for the White House in 2008," U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said in a statement. "He has shown principled leadership on the way in Iraq and on economic opportunity in America."
Edwards' visit also drew criticism from Randy Pullen, Arizona's Republican Party chairman.
"John Edwards spends $400 on haircuts. The people he is trying to pander to don't even spend $400 a week on food," Pullen said in a statement.
Last month, Edwards said he was embarrassed about paying $400 each for two haircuts from Beverly Hills stylist Joseph Torrenueva. The bill was sent to his campaign and paid by mistake and Edwards said he would reimburse the campaign, a spokesman said.