Dems Want to Keep GOP From Votes on Iraq

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 11:06 PM

WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders are intent on sidetracking bipartisan attempts to change course in Iraq at least until fall, officials said Tuesday, rather than allow nervous Republicans to vote for legislation that lacks a troop withdrawal deadline.

Several lawmakers and aides said the goal was to deny members of the GOP rank and file a chance to proclaim their independence from President Bush by voting for a limited measure _ after months of backing his policy in an increasingly unpopular war.

Polls have long shown the war to be unpopular, and a survey released during the day by the Democracy Corps, which advises Democrats, reported that 61 percent of those polled want their lawmaker to begin requiring a reduction of troops.

By contrast, the survey found that 35 percent want their representative not to undermine the president.

One strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Democrats had concluded Republicans "want to put some daylight between themselves and the president" and should not be allowed to do so "after voting in lockstep for the past four years." All officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

One such bill requires the Pentagon to provide Congress with plans for a troop redeployment within 60 days. The measure cleared the House Armed Services last week on a bipartisan vote of 55-2.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, one of the sponsors, said in an interview that he was hoping for a vote before Congress begins a vacation at week's end.

"The one thing that would actually advance the agenda would be to get a redeployment plan," said Abercrombie, a self-described progressive who has voted for far stronger legislation, including a fixed troop withdrawal deadline.

In a challenge to his own leadership, Abercrombie said, "I would hate to be in a situation where the Democratic Party was trying to explain that it wants to score political points rather than end the war."

House Democrats set their strategy as Adm. Michael Mullen, President Bush's choice to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, glided through his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mullen told lawmakers the military is spread thin by the war and testified that the security situation in Iraq "is better, not great, but better" since Bush ordered additional troops deployed last winter.

Still, he said, "there does not appear to be much political progress" in Iraq toward resolving long-standing issues that might ease sectarian conflict.

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