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Parties Face Off Over Iraq War in 11-Hour Debate
Vice President Cheney weighed in, taking note of Kerry's statement earlier this week urging fellow Democrats who joined him in authorizing force in 2002 to acknowledge that the war is a mistake. "I'm not surprised at John Kerry switching his position yet again," Cheney said on Sean Hannity's radio talk show. Kerry is charging "that somehow he was misled," the vice president said. "He wasn't misled. He saw the same intelligence all the rest of us saw. He knew what an evil actor Saddam Hussein was."
Frist used the brief Senate debate to say that a substantial troop withdrawal by Dec. 31 would amount to "cutting and running" and would prompt Iraq to renew its pursuit of "weapons of mass destruction." Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) replied that "two things don't exist in Iraq: weapons of mass destruction, and cutting and running."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Democrats will propose language next week calling on Bush to "begin the phased redeployment of U.S. troops this year."
Senate Democrats tried to gain the upper hand in yesterday's debate by seizing on a Washington Post article reporting that Iraq's new prime minister is considering limited amnesty for guerrillas who had attacked U.S. troops. Two Democrats who are running in competitive states this fall -- Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) -- introduced a "sense of the Senate resolution" calling on Bush to strongly oppose the amnesty idea.
Republicans called the effort a pointless diversion, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office having accepted the resignation of the aide who had described the possible amnesty plan.
Central to the House Republicans' argument was the much-disputed link between the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq. "We in this Congress must show the same steely resolve as those men and women on United Flight 93; the same sense of duty as the first responders who headed up the stairs of the twin towers," said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "We must stand firm in our commitment to fight terrorism and the evil it inflicts throughout the world."
"It is a choice between resolve and retreat," said Rep. Heather A. Wilson (N.M.), one of the most vulnerable Republicans in a swing district that has turned against the war.
Democrats criticized what they called nearly four years of congressional refusal to exercise oversight powers and to challenge the administration's Iraq policies. "Congress cannot be infinitely passive," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said: "This Republican Congress sat and watched the president make mistake after mistake after mistake. . . . You have adopted an approach of 'see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil' with abandon."
Party lines stiffened during the debate. Even Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.), one of five Republicans who signed a Democratic resolution demanding that the president develop an exit strategy, was content to simply implore his colleagues to "have a powerful sense of urgency to end the war and end the war successfully."
The debates played out less than five months before elections that will be colored by what recent polls have shown to be an unpopular war that has dragged down voter confidence in Bush and the GOP-led Congress.
But Republican strategists say their party can still take a page from Bush's 2004 reelection campaign and use the debate to portray Democrats as weak on national defense. GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said Democrats "have been badly outmaneuvered" by the White House and GOP leaders in capitalizing on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death. "A couple of weeks ago, all the focus was on divisions in the GOP over immigration. Now it's Democratic division over the war and national security."
Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.