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Standing on One Principle, Voting on Another

John Warner was with an antiwar colleague all the way -- almost.
John Warner was with an antiwar colleague all the way -- almost. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, September 20, 2007

To paraphrase the immortal words of John Kerry, Sen. John Warner actually did vote to shorten the Iraq war before he voted to lengthen it.

Just two months ago, the courtly Virginia Republican went to the Senate floor and sided with his Democratic colleague from the commonwealth, Jim Webb, on a plan that would shorten troop deployments in Iraq. Yesterday, he went to the same place to announce that he would now vote against the same bill.

"I endorsed it," Warner said. "I intend now to cast a vote against it."

With those dozen words, the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee put a surprise end to the latest efforts in Congress to limit the Iraq war.

Democrats had been hoping that Warner, who last month endorsed the start of a pullout from Iraq, would bring enough Republicans with him to vote for their best plan to accelerate the troop withdrawal: Webb's plan to limit the troops' deployments. But this effort, like previous ones, ended in failure.

"Senator Webb's amendment, I would say without any equivocation, is designed to help protect the concept of the all-volunteer force, and it was for that reason that I joined him," Warner explained in his discursive floor statement, which led to the conclusion that "I will have to cast a vote against my good friend's amendment."

Pro-war Republicans, who had been grumbling about Warner's perfidy for weeks, suddenly celebrated him as an American hero.

"Having now decided to change his vote on this particular amendment is of monumental importance and is the type of decision that makes all of us proud to serve in this great institution," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) pronounced.

Webb was rather less pleased to discover that Warner had retreated from their shared foxhole. The White House "turned up the political heat, and that made people, like particularly Senator Warner, uncomfortable," he deduced.

And when did Webb learn of the betrayal? "Um," Webb replied, "he told me five minutes before the debate began this morning."

Webb should not have been surprised.

In January, Warner drafted a Senate resolution opposing President Bush's "surge" of additional troops into Iraq. Then, on Feb. 5, he voted against bringing up his own resolution for debate. The surge went ahead, unmolested. In the spring, Warner repeatedly flirted with opposition to Bush, but each time he returned to the fold.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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