GOP Defections on Iraq: Who's Next?
Friday, July 6, 2007; 7:34 PM
WASHINGTON -- After the recent defection of prominent Republicans on the Iraq war, the big question in Washington is who might be next.
More than a dozen Republican senators who are running for re-election next year head the list of lawmakers to watch. But others, too, have expressed concerns that the GOP has grown increasingly vulnerable on the issue. As the clock ticks toward Election Day, voter pressure is building against any lawmaker still standing with President Bush on the war.
Potential wildcards include members up for re-election who have broken with the president on other issues such as immigration or who face growing anti-war sentiment in their home states. Those include Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Michael Enzi of Wyoming, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Norm Coleman of Minnesota already has expressed grave doubts about the president's Iraq policies, but he hasn't signed on yet to legislation calling for a change in strategy.
Support among Republican senators is considered crucial to Bush's Iraq policy. Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority and routinely fall shy of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and advance most anti-war legislation.
But new cracks in Bush's support base have begun to show. In the past two weeks, three Republicans _ Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio and Pete Domenici of New Mexico _ have announced they can no longer support Bush's Iraq war strategy and have called on the president to start reducing the military's role there.
Their announcements took many by surprise because most Republicans have said they are willing to hold out until September to see if Bush's troop buildup is working.
"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," Domenici told reporters from New Mexico this week. Instead, Domenici embraced a bipartisan bill by Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar that would put U.S. troops on track to leave by the end of March 2008.
A spokesman for the White House, Tony Fratto, said that position amounts to the same approach sought by the Democrats, "which is, in fact, a precipitous withdrawal."
"We think that's absolutely the wrong way to go," Fratto said Friday. "It would be dangerous."
Domenici's remarks were a switch for the 34-year Senate veteran and GOP stalwart. Just three months earlier, he scolded Democrats for a proposal to fund the troops but order them home this fall. While he is still likely to oppose such legislation, Domenici's rhetoric has changed substantially since April when he said he was committed to giving the military the "time and resources to try to calm Baghdad."
Domenici's term in Congress expires next year, alongside 20 other GOP senators. Of those, a dozen or more are expected to run for re-election. Four have signed on to Salazar's legislation: Domenici, Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.