Amid Talk, Rising Frustration

Stories by Shailagh Murray and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sen. Johnny Isakson expected to be bored by the war speeches on the Senate floor Tuesday night; instead, the Georgia Republican was riveted by the passionate debate and spent hours soaking it in. But Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a recent GOP convert to the antiwar cause, fumed that her new Democratic allies had forced a showdown just as a bipartisan consensus appeared to be emerging.

Last week's all-night Senate session on Iraq, coinciding with an antiwar rally organized in part by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), was as packed with color as it was barren of consequences. Just as they vowed they would, President Bush's GOP allies blocked a simple-majority vote on a Democratic deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq. And then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stood at the front of the chamber and shut down the war debate, probably until September.

Below the radar, however, the currents were moving forcefully, and not in Bush's favor. Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), one of the handful of House Democrats who continue to support the White House's war policy, attended a Pentagon briefing Friday that so unnerved him, he decided to spend the weekend reviewing one of the bipartisan Senate plans for scaling back the U.S. mission.

"I did not get anything from the meeting . . . that makes me feel optimistic about their change in strategy," Boren said. "I just think they're not listening."

The Washington Post is following these four lawmakers as they wrestle with what to do about the war in the coming months. Like Boren, the Republican stalwarts also sounded increasingly restless. "The timing of this debate was premature," Isakson said of the around-the-clock session. But come September, when Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker address Congress, Isakson said, he expects to see all options on the table -- minus last week's partisan rancor.

"There's not any ambiguity, really, on what's ahead," Isakson said. "It's just going to be what those reports say."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company