WASHINGTON -- Three Senate Republicans, including one of the White House's most powerful supporters of the Iraq war, introduced a resolution yesterday to oppose any troop buildup - a serious setback for President Bush.
The latest challenge is led by Sen. John W. Warner, a one-time Navy secretary and former Armed Services Committee chairman, who had been largely restrained in his criticism of the president's plan until yesterday.
"I feel ever so strongly that the American G.I. was not trained ... to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia and the wanton, incomprehensible killing that's going on at this time," the Virginia Republican said at a news conference.
The resolution is the second that aims to put Congress on the record against Bush's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500, an issue the Senate could begin to debate next week. It expresses the sense that the Senate disagrees with the buildup and is largely similar to the earlier resolution but is more deferential to presidential authority.
Warner's decision to introduce a nonbinding resolution - co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Susan M. Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, along with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska - deals a blow to a White House that has been struggling to contain a revolt on Capitol Hill.
It was greeted warmly yesterday by congressional war opponents, who are pushing to rein in the president and force him to begin bringing home the roughly 132,000 troops in Iraq.
"If you look at what has happened to this debate in the last 10 days not only from Democrats, but Republicans, this has been a major kind of escalation of expression of opposition," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has introduced legislation that would require the president to get congressional authorization for the additional troop deployments.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. - who introduced the other anti-buildup resolution last week with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan - said the Delaware Democrat was open to amending his resolution. Biden and other Democrats are working to round up the Republican votes needed to overcome a possible filibuster.
"What's striking is that the bottom line of both resolutions is the same: bipartisan opposition to the president's plan to send more American troops to Iraq to fight a civil war," said Elizabeth Alexander, Biden's spokeswoman.
Biden's resolution, unlike Warner's, calls Bush's proposal an "escalation," a word criticized by some Republicans as politically loaded because of its association with Vietnam. It also does not include wording that acknowledges the president's constitutional authority to direct the war.
Yesterday, several GOP leaders rallied to the president's side.
"We should all want this strategy to work. We should do everything in our power to help make it work. And that begins by giving it a chance and not criticizing it before the strategy even has a few days to work out," the Senate's No. 3 Republican leader, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said in an emphatic speech. "That's why the possibility of a resolution, which is highly critical of the president's strategy and suggests a different course of action and a timeline for leaving, is the wrong strategy."
In the House, Minority Leader John A. Boehner, who has expressed strong support for the White House, challenged Democrats to cooperate with Republicans to make the president's strategy work.
Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.