Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned yesterday that a new Democratic effort to repeal the 2002 Iraq war resolution would meet the same fate as two previous efforts to limit President Bush's authority: blocked by procedural obstacles, unless Democrats relent to GOP terms.
Speaking to reporters by conference call from his Louisville home, McConnell compared the latest Democratic move to "trying to unring a bell." He warned that Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, would "have to surround himself with lawyers" to comply with the new resolution that senior Democrats are drafting.
McConnell predicted he could muster Republican support to block the measure, unless Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) allows a vote on a nonbinding GOP measure to guarantee troop funding.
A showdown over both measures could come as early as next week. Reid has signaled that Iraq-related amendments may be offered to an upcoming homeland security bill. "It's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game," a senior Democratic Senate aide said.
Democratic leaders will present the repeal plan to their colleagues next week. The measure would replace the broad authority that Congress granted Bush in October 2002 with a narrower mandate establishing a March 31, 2008, goal for withdrawing combat troops. It also would restrict longer-term engagement in Iraq to a handful of high-priority realms, including counterterrorism, training for Iraqi troops and border security.
The Bush administration weighed in on the plan yesterday afternoon. "It's simply not necessary," said deputy press secretary Tony Fratto.
The 2002 resolution authorizes Bush to use military force "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."
Democratic architects of the new initiative, including Reid, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Armed Services Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.), have argued that the 2002 authorization is no longer valid, because the intent was to destroy weapons of mass destruction -- which were never found -- and if necessary to depose Saddam Hussein, who has since been captured, tried and executed.
The second part of the authorization, Fratto said, "is still important and envisioned the changing nature there." Even Bush has acknowledged the shift, he said: "The president said this isn't the fight we entered in Iraq but it's the fight we're in."
Fratto said the United States went in as a multinational force under United Nations authorization to take military action against Iraq and was there as an occupying force. "And now we're there at the invitation of the sovereign elected government of Iraq, he said, adding that "U.N. Security Council resolutions that came subsequent to the war authorization, you know, envisioned those kinds of changes."
Biden responded in a CNN interview that while the Constitution allows Bush to conduct war, it does so "only if the Congress gave him the authority in the first place."
"We are repealing the initial authority," Biden said. "And by the way, the United States Constitution cannot be trumped by the United Nations. It cannot be trumped by it. The implementation act of the United Nations treaty, when we passed it, said, it depends upon the Congress's authority."
McConnell noted that 29 Democrats voted for the 2002 resolution, including three Democratic presidential candidates: Biden, along with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.).
"If the Senate doesn't support the mission in Iraq, it has only one option, and that's to decide whether or not to fund that mission," McConnell said. "That's our constitutional role, and we shouldn't drag this into the morass of Democratic presidential primary politics."