The Conservative Democrat | Dan Boren

By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Late Thursday morning, Rep. Dan Boren sat working in his office in the Cannon House Office Building, his walls adorned with deer heads, duck, wild turkey and a sprawling black bear skin. Then a call came from a fellow hunter:

"Senator Nelson is on the phone," an aide to the Oklahoma Democrat said, "and he wants to visit with you."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) had read in the newspaper of Boren's interest in his legislation that would mandate a change of mission in Iraq without setting a date certain for troop withdrawals. Could they talk? Nelson was interested in selling Boren on his proposal. And Boren was interested in hearing more.

In their conversation, the two senators hashed and rehashed the language of the measure that Nelson had co-authored with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Commanders in Iraq would not face redeployment deadlines under the bill, but their missions would change dramatically, from combat in a sectarian war to counterterrorism, border protection and the training of Iraqi forces. Tens of thousands of combat troops would be left without work, Nelson said, and withdrawals would naturally follow.

By the end of the conversation, Boren was on board. He had agreed to support Nelson and Collins's proposal and to push it in the House.

He suggested that Collins reach out to House Republicans to find support. He would do his own diplomacy with fellow conservative Democrats and receptive Republicans.

Boren said he is convinced that the proposal is the common ground that has eluded members of Congress. "This is going to be solved not by the far right and the far left. This conflict is going be solved by the moderates, the people in the middle, the pragmatic legislators, again not micromanaging, not setting a firm deadline, but coming up with a goal."

After months as just one of a handful of Democrats opposing his leadership's withdrawal bills, Boren is looking for a way to make his mark on the war.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), in a concession to the likes of Boren and wavering Republicans, said he is considering a proposal that would mandate some troop withdrawals by the end of the year but leave open an ultimate end to the occupation of Iraq. Boren still isn't biting: "It goes back to what is achievable in the Congress. That bill will not pass. Again, this is an exercise in futility."

But he is willing to take a stand with Nelson. "If anything passes the Congress, it's going to have to be passed by the moderates, not by the fringes of both parties," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company