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Democrats Push Toward Middle On Iraq Policy
With the president holding the veto pen, White House officials are confident they will retain the necessary votes.
"I don't think Congress is going to pull the plug," said White House press secretary Tony Snow.
At least 10 Senate Republicans have openly questioned the president's Iraq strategy, even as they remain reluctant to embrace Democratic legislation to change it. Republican war critics said they are detecting a shift -- albeit a slight one -- toward outright dissent, as their colleagues digest the Petraeus and Crocker testimony and the prospect of a maintaining a large U.S. military presence in Iraq for the near future.
"I'm not alone in my feelings, but so far I'm fairly isolated in terms of manifesting them with a vote," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), one of the party's few on-the-record war dissenters.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who has been virtually silent on the war this year, startled her colleagues on the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday with her criticism of the administration and her call for "a policy that the majority of Americans will support" on Iraq.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Dole's comments reveal a building frustration among otherwise loyal Republicans about an undefined commitment in Iraq -- and its potential political consequences.
"I think Republicans, like a lot of Americans, are worried about how things are going. They're hearing mixed results. They don't believe everything that comes out of the State Department or the Pentagon or the White House. They're thinking critically," Sessions said.
Having lost control of Congress last November, the GOP faces potentially deeper losses in 2008. The party must defend 21 Senate seats, including at least seven in swing states where the war is unpopular, such as Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine.
"It just is not going to work," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said of Republican solidarity. "I wouldn't want to be the party that says we're going to have 130,000 troops from July on."
The Senate next week will resume consideration of its annual defense policy bill, which Reid abruptly pulled from the floor in July after he failed to add an amendment that would have imposed timetables for the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. This time, however, Democratic leaders will focus on four to six amendments that they believe could get the 60 votes needed for passage.
One of the first will be a revised version of legislation that would ensure that troops returning from Iraq are granted a home leave at least as long as their last deployment before returning to the battlefield, said Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), the amendment's author.
The amendment garnered 56 votes in July, and with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) back on the job after suffering a brain hemorrhage, the measure should be within three votes of victory. Webb said yesterday that he was in talks with at least two more Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio).