Iraq resolution may expose GOP divide
WASHINGTON - A Democrat-driven resolution on Iraq that has attracted the support of at least two Republicans threatens to expose fissures within the GOP over the unpopular war.
Republicans are deeply divided on the war in Iraq and how Congress should react to
President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to join the estimated 130,000 already there.
Ten Republicans met behind closed doors late Wednesday with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a bid to generate consensus on Iraq. The senators emerged from the meeting to announce that no deal had been reached.
"This is a very fluid situation," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
The meeting came after Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both Republicans who have sparred with the administration on the war, announced that they would co-sponsor the resolution.
The resolution would put the Senate on record as opposed to sending more troops to Iraq. It also calls for the U.S. military mission to switch from major combat to training Iraqi troops, counterterrorism and keeping foreign fighters out of Iraq.
"It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq," the resolution states.
Hagel called the resolution a "genuine bipartisan effort." He is a possible presidential contender in 2008 and helped draft the proposal with Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.
However, some Republicans denounced the proposal as a political ploy to embarrass the president. Sen. John Cornyn, a Bush supporter, predicted the resolution would fail.
"If my Democrat colleagues are truly opposed to the mission in Iraq, then as the new majority in Congress they should schedule a serious debate and a vote on cutting off funding for our troops," said Cornyn, R-Texas.
Hagel shot back: "To somehow come up with a conclusion that it shows a lack of seriousness, I am a bit befuddled by what the Texas senator is trying to describe."
The resolution does not call for a withdrawal of troops or threaten funding of military operations, as many Democrats have suggested. Instead, it says the U.S. should transfer responsibility to the Iraqis "under an appropriately expedited timeline" that is not specified.
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his panel will debate the measure on Jan. 24, the day following Bush's State of the Union address. A swift committee review would pave the way for debate on the floor as early as that week, although Democrats say it is likely Republicans on the committee will want to make changes.
Biden said modest changes to the bill might be used "to attract those who share our view but may not like our specific language."
Bush sought to stave off a major showdown between the administration and Congress on Iraq by inviting GOP skeptics of the plan to the White House on Wednesday. But many of those members emerged from the meeting to say they still opposed sending more troops, although they were unsure whether they would back the resolution.
Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, one of several Republicans wary of Bush's plan, said he is concerned the resolution may go too far. Coleman spokesman Tom Steward said the senator is open to an increase in the Anbar province, for example.
"Senator Coleman has repeatedly conveyed his specific concerns to the president and is hopeful that Congress can find bipartisan common ground on this resolution going forward," Steward said.
Alternative proposals have already begun to surface. House GOP leaders backed a bill that would protect funding for U.S. troops, while Senate Republicans prepared a resolution supportive of Bush's strategy.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that resolution would say the Senate believes the war in Iraq cannot be lost "and this strategy could bring about success if properly supported."
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is considering an alternative proposal that could attract GOP attention. Rather than denouncing the president's strategy, it would voice support for recommendations by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. That panel did not recommend sending more troops unless specifically requested by a military commander.
Other Democrats have plans of their own. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he wants legislation capping the number of troops in Iraq at existing levels — a plan that attracted support from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who has his own bill threatening the funding of troops.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on Wednesday announced legislation that would require Bush to obtain congressional approval for additional troops in Iraq if the Iraqis cannot show progress after six months.
Dodd and Clinton are among several Democrats with 2008 presidential aspirations.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.