Congressional Response

Facing Tough Reelection Bids, GOP Moderates React With Concern

By Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer and Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2007

If the prime targets of President Bush's appeal for patience last night were moderates in his own party, his speech may have fallen flat.

Republican lawmakers, facing tough reelection bids in the midst of an ongoing war, reacted with grave concern to the president's call for only modest troop reductions and no dramatic change of mission in Iraq. And the lawmakers' tone could prove critical when the Senate takes up defense policy legislation next week, a step that will revive the debate over whether and how the legislative branch should seek to change the course of the war.

"I just don't think that waiting another six months to reassess the situation is going to move us forward," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who holds a key swing vote, said last night. "The whole premise of the surge, as the president advocated it in January, was to buy time for political reforms, and that didn't happen. To continue with the same strategy that failed to produce the results that the president and everyone hoped for just doesn't make sense."

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), another Republican who has largely sided with the president even as he searches for alternative policies, voiced his own concerns. "It's a clear change in direction, with troops coming out rather than coming in," said Alexander, the co-sponsor of a leading bipartisan alternative plan centered around the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former Democratic congressman Lee H. Hamilton (Ind.). "He's on the right path, but he didn't go far enough along that path."

Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who is spearheading efforts to broker a bipartisan compromise in the House, echoed the theme.

"Although the president's decision to draw down American troops is a step in the right direction, my sense is that we need to increase pressure on the Iraqi government and hold them accountable for adhering to already agreed upon benchmarks," English said. "If the Iraqis fail to take appropriate action to accomplish political settlement within their country, the United States should consider dramatically accelerating its disengagement."

To be sure, not all swing voters were so dissenting. Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who has criticized Bush's war policies but has not voted against them, appeared to be back in the fold. "A mandated timeline for withdrawing all U.S. forces would be catastrophic for the United States, the Middle East, and the global community," Domenici said in a statement.

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