Democrats Seek More GOP Defections on Iraq
Translating Republican criticism of President Bush into real votes for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is the key challenge for Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And so far they haven't had the success they need to change the administration's policy. Reid says he wants amendments with teeth, but most of what he is getting so far is rhetorical criticism. Republican support for Bush has eroded, and on the amendment sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia that would require troops to spend as much time at home as they did in their previous tour overseas—effectively curtailing the number of troops that can serve—Democrats garnered a healthy majority but were still four votes shy of the magic number of 60 that would end debate, according to Senate rules.
A compromise piece of legislation that would implement the Iraq Study Group's recommendations has strong bipartisan backing, but not from the two party leaders in the Senate, complicating whether it could get through the chamber. The Senate is planning to debate the $649 billion defense authorization bill through next week. Reid and many Democrats, who have ratcheted up pressure on the president and on the GOP, are trying to push for a robust change in course. They don't want to settle with mere expressions of disapproval. The Bush administration is trying its hardest to hold on to Republican senators, particularly until Gen. David Petraeus can present his much-anticipated September progress report. The September date still looms large, despite the presentation of the administration's interim report this morning. The president has vowed to wait until the Petraeus report before making any major decisions on Iraq strategy. But Reid said, "We must change course now, not in September."
Skittish Republicans are, of course, caught in the middle. With Republicans demanding 60 votes to adopt any amendment or on any cloture vote, it's unlikely Reid will get his way. A boxing analogy seems appropriate. Since the fall election, Democrats have been throwing steadily harder punches in each of the rounds, starting with nonbinding resolutions, to the emergency supplemental legislation, and now to this debate. The goal has always been to drive Republican senators away from Bush. They're making progress, for sure. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe broke away this week, following the lead of GOP senators like Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Gordon Smith of Oregon. But as of this week, it doesn't seem like the Democrats are yet over the hump.