WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Democratic leaders in Congress, attempting to shift the Iraq war debate from funding to strategy, said yesterday that they plan to propose binding legislation that would limit the role of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Sunday that a bipartisan Senate proposal is in the works to "modify" the "wide-open" 2002 congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq. Such a modification, Levin added, could stop the president from continuing on a "failing course."
The proposal would change the U.S. role from an "unlimited mission" to "an anti-terrorist mission to go after al-Qaida in Iraq, to support and train the Iraqi army, to protect our own diplomatic personnel and other personnel in Iraq," Levin said.
White House press secretary Tony Snow warned that any congressional limits on the troops in Iraq would hinder the war effort.
Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press and CNN's Late Edition, Snow said Congress should remember that any restrictions placed on Bush to limit funding or the mission also would bind "the guys in the field."
"They think they need the support; we think they need the support," Snow said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told CNN that Senate proposals over the next few months would focus on extricating troops, not on a halt to funding.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans plan to keep Americans' attention on war funding, which he sees as politically dangerous territory for Democrats.
On Friday, the House approved a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's decision to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, primarily to deal with sectarian violence in Baghdad. Efforts to debate a similar measure failed in the Senate during a special session Saturday by a largely party-line vote of 56-34, with seven Republicans joining the Democrats. Sixty votes were needed to allow debate.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a Democratic presidential hopeful and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday on CBS' Face the Nation that after last week's votes, Congress would face increasing public pressure to restrict the president's ability to wage war in Iraq.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, introduced a resolution Saturday that would set a Dec. 31 expiration date for the authorization to invade Iraq and require the president to ask Congress for an extension.
On Friday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a Democratic presidential contender, introduced legislation to cap the level of U.S. troops in Iraq and begin a withdrawal in 90 days. Rep. John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, announced plans Thursday to sponsor legislation to bar the deployment of units that do not meet strict readiness standards.
Republicans might be more willing to join Democrats as they shift the debate from funding the war to restricting the president's war powers, which is seen as more politically expedient.
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was among the Republicans who voted in favor of debating the Iraq resolution. He said he supports a similar measure and believes that funding no longer should be the focus of debate.
"What this debate is about right now is a continuation and an escalation of American military involvement in Iraq, putting young men and women in the middle of a sectarian, an intra-sectarian civil war," Hagel told Meet the Press.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.