WASHINGTON -- As congressional Democrats move to force President Bush to veto a war spending bill that would start a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, they are simultaneously pursuing a carefully crafted offensive aimed at another target: Republican lawmakers.
In the charged debate over the war, the strategy aims to achieve Democratic objectives on both policy and political fronts, according to party leaders and aides.
Convinced that Bush will never listen to their calls to bring troops home, senior Democrats have concluded that they must force Republicans to vote again and again in defense of the unpopular war until enough plead with the president to change course.
But Democratic strategists also believe that repeated votes on the war will enable the party to expand its congressional majorities in next year's elections by continuing to link GOP lawmakers with the president and his war policies.
"It bewilders me why these Republicans have tied themselves so closely to this president. God bless them," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Our goal is to keep giving them votes" on Iraq, Emanuel said.
The Democratic withdrawal plan is scheduled to come up for a vote today in the House and tomorrow in the Senate. A presidential veto is expected within days.
Republican leaders insist that they are taking the responsible position by opposing Democrats' attempts to set a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces.
"Our members are doing their best to try to figure out what's the best thing to do, as opposed to what is the popular thing to do," said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the House minority whip.
Despite current poll numbers showing support for the Democratic position, he said, public attitudes could change as the dispute over funding for the war drags on.
Vice President Dick Cheney pressed the Republican case yesterday, accusing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, of playing politics with the war.
"Leaders should make decisions based on the security interests of our country, not on the interests of their political party," Cheney said after meeting with GOP senators at the Capitol.
Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.