Iraq Vote Could Resonate In 2008

By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 5, 2007

When Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) saw reporters approaching him last week, he took off in a sprint, determined to say as little as possible about a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's troop-escalation plan, which is expected to come before the Senate today.

"You know where I stand," the senator, who is considered politically vulnerable back home, said repeatedly as he fled down stairways at the Capitol. "I'm still looking."

The historic showdown to begin today represents the first bipartisan confrontation between Congress and the White House over the Iraq war since the invasion nearly four years ago. While the resolution will test the mettle of every member of the chamber, none will be challenged more than Sununu and the 19 other Senate Republicans facing reelection in 2008 -- many from states where voters are angry with Bush's war policy and want the troops to begin heading home.

Democrats won control of the Senate and House in November largely because of widespread opposition to the war, and the issue remains dangerous for the GOP heading into the 2008 campaign. Senate Republicans are torn between home-state voters eager for them to take a stand against a conflict that has claimed more than 3,000 U.S. troops and has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and Bush and other Republican leaders who warn that passage of the resolution would undermine chances of a successful conclusion to the war.

"It's inevitable that people want to ascribe political motives to this, but I just hope a majority of Oregonians understand when it comes to issues of war and peace, there's no issue of greater gravity on your heart and mind," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who must stand for reelection next year in a swing state.

"Oregonians are patriots and want to fight the war on terror, but they don't like the way this war has mutated," added Smith, once a war supporter but now an anguished foe.

Republican senators are loath to say that political calculations could weigh on their votes, but to GOP leaders battling to prevent their members from supporting the resolution against the troop buildup, politics present an unavoidable obstacle.

"I'm sure with some of them, that's a factor," said Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.). "But this is a very, very serious matter," he pleaded. "There are some things more important than getting reelected. This is one of them."

The drama is to begin late this afternoon with a procedural vote on whether to move ahead with the debate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Friday to try to block that, promising to rally his fractious party behind him.

The bipartisan resolution to be offered on the floor states that the Senate disagrees with the president's plan and urges Bush to consider all other options for achieving his strategic goals.

Should resolution supporters clear their first obstacle, the Senate will move to an anticipated long series of votes on amendments. The big ones to watch include a Republican call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops, intended to put Democrats on the spot, and attempts by antiwar Democrats to strike certain provisions, including one opposing the termination of funding for troops in the field.

The latter issue drew fire yesterday from John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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