By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush's troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced the shift, hoping to unite a large majority of the Senate and thwart efforts by the White House and GOP leaders to derail any congressional resolution of disapproval of Bush's decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.
Although the original Democratic language was popular within the party, it had little appeal among Republicans. Warner's proposal drew support from both sides, and it was retooled last night to maximize both Democratic and Republican votes.
The revised resolution would express the Senate's opposition to the troop increase but would vow to protect funding for the troops. The resolution does not include the Democratic language saying the Bush plan is against the national interest, but it also drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.
"It's been a hard work in progress," Warner said of the revised resolution, which will require the support of at least 60 senators to prevent a filibuster.
After reviewing the Warner revisions, Reid decided the new text would take the place of the original resolution, by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). He said the Senate will begin debating the resolution next week, provided Democrats and Republicans can agree on a way to overcome some procedural hurdles.
House Democratic leaders reached the same decision, ordering committees to draft a resolution next week patterned on Warner's language. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went further, publicly hinting she will push binding legislation that would begin bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. "I believe that you'll see initiatives on the floor to this effect: that we have this year in which we should be able to drastically reduce the number of troops," she said in an interview broadcast on National Public Radio yesterday.
In both the House and the Senate, Democratic leaders decided to get the largest possible vote, even if it means embracing weaker language than the original Democratic resolution.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded to the announcement by saying: "The president wants to win in Iraq -- he's proposed a comprehensive plan to do so, and he's asked Congress to give the plan a chance to work. . . . These resolutions send mixed signals to our troops and our enemy."
The Warner and Biden resolutions reach almost identical conclusions, in that they oppose the president's deployment of 21,500 additional troops and call for existing troops to be reassigned to guard Iraq's borders, combat terrorism and train Iraqi security forces. Both measures call for regional diplomacy to draw Iraq's neighbors into a peace process.
But Warner revamped his original proposal, both to win over many reluctant Republicans who thought it was too tough and to reassure Democrats who complained he was not being tough enough on the administration.
He added language specifically opposing a cutoff of funding for U.S. troops in a targeted appeal to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who had offered an identical separate measure.
The changes came after two meetings earlier in the day, involving Warner, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and authors of the Biden proposal. Levin was the first of the original authors to join Warner as a co-sponsor, offering a brief endorsement on the Senate floor after Warner unveiled the new version.
In the House, Pelosi suggested yesterday that the chamber may consider binding legislation. In comments aired yesterday by National Public Radio, Pelosi said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had told her during her visit to Baghdad last week that, with sufficient funds, his government could stabilize Iraq in four to six months and allow 50,000 U.S. troops to be deployed out of hotbeds of sectarian violence.
"That was his number," she stressed. "The Iraqis must build their own country," she added, "and we have paid a big enough price."
Brendan Daly, Pelosi's spokesman, said no specific decisions had been made related to binding troop withdrawals. Other House leaders said they will not rush toward a legislative confrontation. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, are holding extensive hearings on the state of the U.S. military and the impact of further deployments, in the hope of building a political case for such a confrontation. But no proposals have emerged from those efforts.
"My position is and has been, we're holding hearings now. We need to hear from Mr. Skelton, Mr. Murtha and others as to . . . their conclusions and recommendations. Until then, the answer is no," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said when asked if the House was ready for such legislation.
But Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of Murtha's subcommittee, said the parameters of the legislation are already coming together. Legislative language, to be attached to a forthcoming "supplemental" war spending bill, would stipulate that only troops deemed fully trained and ready could be deployed to Iraq, and that National Guard and reserve troops could be deployed only for about a year. Such language would initially restrict Bush's ability to fully man his planned troop increase and over time would force troops to come home.
"We need to finish these hearings and put together our recommendations, so it is a little premature to say how we're going to do this," Moran said. "But when the supplemental comes out, people are going to find the speaker has spoken consistently. I think the American people are going to feel they got exactly what they wanted when they voted in a new Congress. You're going to see some dramatic initiatives."
Many Democrats had already expressed support for Warner's effort and had intended to vote for both resolutions, in the event of a showdown on the Senate floor. "It's less important whose resolution and more important what message we send," said Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), a senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a conservative Democrat who had concerns about the Biden proposal, predicted that the Warner resolution will "receive very strong bipartisan support" in its modified form.
Although Bush would not be obliged to follow Congress's direction, should both chambers ultimately pass the Warner resolution, the White House has lobbied hard to prevent such a measure from passing. If the current drive succeeds, it will be the first formal, bipartisan affront to the administration's Iraq policy since the war began.
Not all Republicans are expected to sign on, however. Some believe that the buildup is a worthy cause that should be given a chance. "The critics stop short of offering any constructive alternatives," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). "All they have done is just criticize." Cornyn was assembling his own proposal that endorses Bush's strategy, while calling on the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for security throughout the country by November.
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.