The War Council

Democrats Forge Single Voice on Iraq

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2007

The new Senate Iraq resolution, unveiled yesterday afternoon, is the latest handiwork yet of Congress's newest "it club": the Senate Democratic war council. The inaugural meeting was called last June by Harry M. Reid (Nev.), then the minority leader. The midterm elections were nearing, and Democrats wanted to answer voters' growing concerns about the war.

The result was a nonbinding resolution offered by Sens. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Carl M. Levin (Mich.) that called for troop reductions to begin by the end of the year. It failed 60 to 39 but represented the Democrats' first major challenge to President Bush's Iraq policy since the war began.

The vote also launched a new effort, spearheaded by the council, to minimize public squabbling over Iraq by instituting a internal process for integrating the caucus's wide range of war-related views.

The move was long overdue. Six Democrats, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), who later was reelected as an independent, voted against the Reed-Levin measure. The Senate also voted 86 to 13 to kill a resolution by Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), calling for a troop withdrawal by July 2007. After the votes, Reid acknowledged that Democrats disagreed on certain fundamentals, including when and how they could try to bring the Iraq war to an end.

He did assert that senators were duty-bound to express their discontent. "It's long past time to change course in Iraq and start to end the president's open-ended commitment," Reid said.

Sometimes the council gathers in Reid's office; on other occasions, in a nearby conference room. There is no formal schedule. Nor do all invitees show up. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), for instance, was asked to attend at least two recent meetings but sent her regrets.

In January, when Democrats assumed control of both chambers of Congress, they decided to answer Bush's troop escalation proposal with a nonbinding statement of opposition. Reid, as the new majority leader, convened his council at least once before the Senate vote on the measure. This time, every Democrat rallied in support of the resolution, although Lieberman voted against it. Republican procedural objections prevented it from going forward.

The council met again the next week. Biden pitched a new idea: replacing the 2002 authorization with a narrower authority that limited future military engagement. Some members, including antiwar Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), weighed in with specific concerns, which are now being incorporated. Their final version was unveiled yesterday, with debate starting on the Senate floor as early as next week.

Democratic leaders are cautious about discussing the council, not wanting to single out lawmakers. "It's a fluid group," Reid said.

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