Iraq proposals get mixed results

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON --The Senate rejected yesterday a Democratic resolution to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2008, but a similar measure advanced in the House, and Democratic leaders vowed to keep challenging President Bush to change course in Iraq.

The vote in the Senate was 50 against and 48 in favor, 12 short of what was needed to pass, with a few defections in each party. It came just hours after the House Appropriations Committee, in another vote largely on party lines, approved an emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that also includes a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. The House will vote on that legislation Thursday, setting the stage for another confrontation.

The action in both houses threw into sharp relief the Democratic strategy of ratcheting up the pressure, vote by vote, to try to force the White House to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. But it also highlighted Republican unity in opposition; in the Senate, only one Republican, Sen. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, voted with the Democrats.

GOP leaders said they counted the day as a victory. "It is clear now that the majority of the Senate opposes a deadline for the withdrawal of troops," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, countered, "The Republicans are rubber-stamping the president's failed policy."

President Bush, at a GOP fundraising dinner, applauded the senators who voted against a timetable. "Many of those members know ... that if American forces were to step back from Baghdad now, before the capital city is more secure, the scale and scope of attacks would increase and intensify," he said.

The Democratic resolution in the Senate would have redefined the U.S. mission in Iraq and set a goal of withdrawing U.S. combat troops by March 31, 2008, except for a "limited number" for counterterrorism, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and protecting U.S. and allied personnel. The House measure set a withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.

The prospects for either the House or Senate measure winning final passage were always considered slim, given that the Senate legislation needed a so-called supermajority of 60 to advance. Even so, the White House issued forceful veto threats, sending a clear signal to Republicans where the president stood. The White House also worked behind the scenes this week to keep Republicans on board.

Both parties consider these measures an important political statement, a measure of how far the debate over Iraq has moved in recent months, and a sign of Americans' discontent with the war. But Sen. Norm Coleman, a moderate Republican from Minnesota who voted against the Democratic measure, said the final vote could be misleading. "There is frustration and deep concern about the war," said Coleman, who is facing a tough re-election fight next year.

The Senate resolution did not attract the contingent of seven Republican moderates who joined Democrats in opposing Bush's troop buildup plan last month. The only Republican defection was that of Smith, who said in a statement, "Setting specific dates for withdrawal is unwise, but what is worse is remaining mired in the quicksand of the Sunni-Shia civil war."

Two Democratic senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, crossed party lines to oppose the withdrawal plan. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent and staunch supporter of Bush's Iraq policy, voted as expected with the Republicans. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican running for president, was campaigning in Iowa at the time of the vote. Both Maryland senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, voted for the resolution.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly yesterday for two non-binding resolutions, one Democratic and one Republican, voicing support for the troops in Iraq and pledging to provide them with all necessary funds.

Across the Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee advanced its version of that legislation by a vote of 36-28. It was considered a major test vote, with Rep. Barbara Lee of California the lone Democrat voting against it. "The American people sent a mandate to us to bring home our men and women before the end of the year," Lee said. "I don't think the president deserves another chance."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the sole Marylander on the committee, voted to send the bill to the floor. "It really provides for the first time a reasonable strategy for the phased redeployment of U.S. troops, which hasn't happened in the past," the Baltimore County Democrat said. "The bottom line for me is changing the strategy."

Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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