WASHINGTON -- Scrambling to head off a potentially embarrassing congressional rebuke for President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, Senate Republicans are working on alternative legislation that would attach specific "benchmarks" to the White House plan.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has been the leading congressional advocate of deploying additional troops to quell sectarian violence in Iraq, said yesterday that he is interested in drafting a resolution to ensure there are ways to measure the effectiveness of the troop increase.
And Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and one of the president's most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, said he may introduce a similar resolution.
"It says we need to give it a chance," Cornyn said, echoing the president's State of the Union plea to lawmakers Tuesday to give his plan "a chance to work." "We owe it to our servicemen and servicewomen to say what we're for, not just what we're against."
The legislative maneuvering comes after a rough two weeks for GOP lawmakers, who have been struggling to respond to President Bush's deeply unpopular proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500 in the coming months.
If McCain and Cornyn introduce resolutions, they could draw support away from other resolutions that directly oppose the buildup and cast Democrats as impediments to progress in Iraq.
Six Republican senators have expressed support for one of two resolutions that explicitly criticize the Bush plan, bringing Senate Democrats close to the GOP support needed to override any filibuster.
The first, and more critical, of the two resolutions -- sponsored by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican -- was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday and sent to the Senate floor.
The second -- put together by Sens. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican, Ben Nelson a Nebraska Republican, and Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican -- has attracted the support of seven other senators, including two more Republicans.
The White House has been working hard to derail both of the resolutions, which -- although nonbinding -- would mark the first time Congress has challenged Bush's leadership of the four-year-old war.
"What they really want to come out of this is no resolution," said Sen. Trent Lott, the No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate.
Cornyn said he has talked with the White House about his plans, as well as Senate Republicans and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who won re-election as an independent in November. Lieberman has been one of the strongest supporters of the president's plan.
Cornyn's and McCain's comments come just days after House Republican leaders proposed their own measure to establish benchmarks.
Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.