By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, yesterday endorsed a new resolution opposing President Bush's buildup of troops in Baghdad, as even some of the most loyal Republicans scrambled to register their concerns and distance themselves from an unpopular policy.
The resolution, unveiled the day before the president's State of the Union address, is expected to garner the support of many Senate Republicans -- especially those facing reelection next year. The measure appeals to many rank-and-file Republicans because it allows them to voice their differences with the administration without embracing the highly critical language of another bipartisan resolution co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), one of the sharpest critics of the administration's Iraq policy.
By last night, Warner had already met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the two camps were negotiating a single resolution likely to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
Even House Republicans, once the president's firmest bulwark, made their skepticism clear yesterday, calling for firm benchmarks for success in the war that House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said would "hold the Bush administration and the Iraqi government accountable and require the administration to report to Congress every 30 days."
"I support the president's plan," Boehner said. "But we have a duty to candidly and honestly assess whether the new strategy will be effective and ultimately successful."
That statement marked an important shift within a Republican leadership that has rarely made demands on the administration's foreign policy team. With public support for the war at record lows, the Democrats back in control of Congress and many Republicans facing tough reelection campaigns in two years, party leaders feel they have little choice but to voice their disapproval with plans for a troop buildup.
With the introduction of the Warner resolution, five Republican senators are now on record opposing Bush's decision. The resolution's co-sponsors, Warner, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are all up for reelection next year, as is Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who was included in the resolution's drafting over the weekend.
Another group of senior Republican senators, including Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), are searching for their own avenue to express their concerns.
"The American people on November 7 changed management in the United States Congress. The overriding issue was Iraq," Hagel said. "What you're seeing is representative democracy in action. What you're seeing is the clear attitudes of the American people playing out among their elective representatives."
The Warner-Coleman-Collins resolution tones down some of the language in the competing resolution drafted by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Hagel and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and couches its recommendations in wording deferential to the constitutional authority of the president.
But it states that "the Senate disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces by 21,500."
"Our overall military, diplomatic and economic strategy should not be regarded as an 'open-ended' or unconditional commitment, but rather as a new strategy that hereafter should be conditioned upon the Iraqi government's meeting benchmarks that must be specified by the Administration," it concludes.
The House Republican benchmarks also represented a clear break from administration policy. Under the proposal, every 30 days the White House would have to present Congress clear measurements showing the Iraqi government's progress in purging insurgents and terrorists from its security forces, identifying the level of combat experience for Iraqi army battalions, tracking expenditures on Iraqi army equipment and measuring the effectiveness of the police force in Baghdad. The administration would also have to measure Iraqi government efforts to breed tolerance among its country's warring sects.
House Republicans also called on the administration to measure its efforts to cooperate with neighboring countries to stabilize Iraq, a push for regional diplomacy that the White House has resisted.
"We have a responsibility to reach across the aisle and to work with our Democrat counterparts to perform our obligation under the Constitution," Boehner said. "We're a separate branch of the government. We were sent here by the American people, and we believe that proper oversight of this plan and implementation of this plan can help make it successful."
Some Republican aides saw both the Senate and House developments as positive for Bush, because they give Republicans eager to voice their opposition to the president's Iraq policy ways to go on record without siding with the more forthright statements of opposition drafted with more Democratic support.
But Democrats characterized the development as strong evidence of Bush's eroding support. The Foreign Relations Committee will take up the Biden-Hagel language tomorrow and send a modified version for debate in the full Senate next week.
The Warner group has largely reached the same conclusion as Biden, Hagel and Levin: U.S. troops should focus on protecting Iraq's border, combating terrorism and training Iraqi forces, and the administration should step up diplomatic efforts to start a regional peace process.
Committee aides said they will study the Warner resolution and are almost certain to make changes to win support from his coalition.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor yesterday to implore his colleagues not to go through with a vote on any resolution of opposition, calling the effort "pernicious" and "very, very dangerous."