Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speak to reporters following a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House in Washington September 11, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Calling President Bush’s anticipated announcement Thursday to end the surge the “illusion of change,” Senate Democrats called again on Republicans to break with the White House on Iraq policy next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “The president is dug in and unwilling to realize that his strategy places all the burden on our military, and its not working.
“His plan is neither a drawdown or a change in mission,” Reid said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “His plan is more of the same. It keeps at least 130,000 troops, American troops, in the midst of a civil war. That is unacceptable to me. It’s unacceptable to the American people. I hope the Senate Republicans realize it’s time to come over and work with us.”
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Reid probably has his sights on Republicans like Virginia Sen. John Warner, who is retiring after 2008 and, while he has criticized the president’s policy, has never supported a Democratic withdrawal plan.
Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman has also never voted with Democrats, but at yesterday’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing, he told Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Iraq, that Americans want to see “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Coleman faces a tough re-election battle in 2008. Democrats will find themselves wooing the centrist votes of Republicans and have every intention of using the war as a campaign issue before the ’08 general election.
It is a tough political game, a less binding Democratic plan that could gain some support from Republicans but at the same time cost the votes of liberal lawmakers.
Reid would not describe specifics of what Iraq policy amendments Democrats would offer to the defense policy bill that will be on the Senate floor next week, but he said Democrats would reach out to middle-of-the-road Republicans uncomfortable with the president’s leadership on Iraq.
This would be a new political strategy for Democrats, who in past months have tried to force waffling Republicans to support mandating withdrawal of combat troops or nothing at all.
It remains to be seen how Democrats in the House of Representative would react to a bill that had sufficient flexibility to win the support of Republicans. Liberal Democrats in the House have said they would not support any tactic that does not fully defund the war.
“Those of us in Congress have the power, and the responsibility, to make sure that the only funding that we approve is used to fully fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops and military contractors and bring them home to their families. The American public voted Democrats into office last November on this very issue, and it is far past time that we live up to the trust that they have shown in us,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey. “If we fail to stand up to the president, we will fail our country politically, morally and economically.”
And liberal support may be difficult to keep in the Senate as well. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is planning to reintroduce his own bill to cut off funding for the war and bring all troops out of Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin, who appeared at the press conference with Reid, said the amendments would take U.S. troops out of a combat role.
“If he’s going to change course, he has got to go below presurge levels, go to limited missions,” Levin said. “The amendments that will be offered will have that limited mission and the reduction of troops below presurge levels.”
While Petraeus told Congress and Americans in a media blitz this week that the surge has lowered violence in Iraq, Reid said, “The surge has had ample time to run its course. Every objective assessment has shown the surge has failed.”
Levin pointed to Petraeus’ testimony as supporting Democrats’ plans to withdraw combat troops.
Levin pointed out that in his testimony, “Petraeus was helpful in a number of ways. He agreed readily that there is no military solution. … He agreed that the purpose of the surge, to give the Iraqi politicians room, had not been achieved.” Levin also argued that there are Iraqi units capable of taking a leading role but that have not been given that responsibility because of the surge.
Levin also pointed to a statement by Petraeus at the end of the hearing in which he “committed to continue reductions below the presurge levels.”
Levin said this is an important difference between what Bush is expected to call for Thursday and what Petraeus recommended — the commitment to continue lowering the number of combat troops. He said that commitment is not in the president’s plan.
“A commitment now is what we are prepared to put into law,” Levin said.