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Democrats' Iraq Plans Hit Roadblock in Senate

Hear NPR's David Welna
Hear Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)

Lawmakers pushing for a new strategy in Iraq ran into a wall of opposition in the Senate, as Republicans blocked an attempt to require the military to give troops longer rest periods between deployments to Iraq. GOP leaders plan to block several other Iraq related amendments to a defense policy bill.

The troop deployment measure was fairly straightforward. It stipulated that for however long a soldier is deployed to Iraq, he or she should be given an equal amount of time at home before the next deployment.

The measure's sponsor was Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a Vietnam veteran who said his proposal was co-sponsored by every other combat veteran in the Senate.

"I believe that, if I may say, we collectively understand a truth acquired the hard way," Webb said. "And it's a truth that transcends politics, and we're trying in all good faith to do something about it."

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Webb's proposal would be a disaster:

"It's a dangerous precedent to allow troop rotations to be governed by politicians who are looking for the next election," Graham said.

In the end, the Webb amendment won a majority vote, 56-41, including the support of seven Republican senators. But that wasn't enough to clear the procedural hurdle Senate GOP leaders had erected, which required 60 votes.

The Webb amendment was part of a larger push by the Democrats, who are trying to force a change in President Bush's Iraq policy — and who want to keep the heat on vulnerable GOP senators up for re-election next year.

President Bush is urging lawmakers to wait until a September report by Gen. David Petreaus on whether the surge in Iraq is working.

President Bush is threatening a veto if the Senate passes a plan that calls for the beginning of a drawdown of troops in Iraq within four months.

Mr. Bush has called the measure – which would have all combat troops withdrawn by April 2008 – "equivalent to setting a date for failure."

But the president must stanch a steady flow of Republicans who have switched sides in recent weeks to oppose the administration's Iraq policy. Bush's national security adviser goes to Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with more than a dozen Republican senators in an effort to shore up eroding support for the war.

On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney held a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans to talk about the war. But when it was done, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was not talking the White House line. She said she plans to vote for the amendment to start a troop withdrawal.

"We ... are not prepared to make an indefinite open-ended commitment to the Iraqis until they decide when they're going to make their political decisions," she said. "Our men and women are making the military sacrifice; they're not prepared to make the political sacrifice."

One of the sponsors of the amendment, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), said the Iraqi government must get the message that if they don't get their act together, U.S. troops are going to leave.

"Our goal is maximum pressure on the Iraqi leaders and, we believe, also pressure on President Bush to recognize what the American people have long recognized: We've got to change course in Iraq," Levin said.

The White House on Tuesday hinted that Mr. Bush might be ready to take a slightly more conciliatory line on Iraq, but the moment never came.

"I want to talk about this war we're in," the president told a crowd. "First of all, I regret I have to tell you we're at a — in war."

Instead, Mr. Bush went on to send a stern message to lawmakers that they need to be patient. He said the U.S. ground commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, would be reporting on progress in Iraq in September.

"I believe Congress ought to wait for Gen. Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before they make any decisions," Mr. Bush said.

The president is required to give Congress a status report this week on how the Iraqi government has been performing, but Mr. Bush insisted it's only an interim report, one that will detail some of the Iraqi government's political shortfalls.

White House aides still say Mr. Bush is contemplating a new war strategy. But he finished his speech in Cleveland Tuesday without mentioning it.

With additional reporting from The Associated Press

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