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Senate Debates U.S. Troop Withdrawl from Iraq

June 21, 2006 at 6:15 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: With the mounting military and civilian death toll in Iraq and the cost of the war continuing to rise, polls show the American public increasingly is uncomfortable with the direction of the conflict.

Hoping to capitalize on that sentiment five months before the midterm elections, Senate Democrats this week are highlighting the administration’s post-war mistakes and calling for President Bush to begin pulling American troops out of Iraq this year.

Illinois’ Dick Durbin.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: What was promised to the American people to be a rather uncomplicated effort by America to rid Iraq of a dictator has turned out to be a war that has gone on for more than three years with no end in sight.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, Senate Democrats differ over what course to propose. Most are expected to rally behind a non-binding proposal, crafted by Michigan’s Carl Levin and Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, that says the Bush administration should begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq this year.

SEN. JACK REED (D), Rhode Island: We have to send a strong signal to the government of Iraq that they must take their future in their own hands, that they must make difficult choices about their constitution, about sharing political power, about eliminating sectarian elements from their security forces, and a host of other difficult problems.

This rests upon the fundamental, I think, reality of the situation: Ultimately, it will be the Iraqis who stabilize their country and reform their country. We can help; we have helped; but it is up to them, and it must begin now.

Democrats want a specific date

KWAME HOLMAN: But a handful of Democrats, led by John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, is pushing a stronger position with a date specific, requiring United States forces be withdrawn from Iraq by July 1, 2007.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: This amendment is something that I think represents, not only the views of the senator from Massachusetts and myself, but the views of the majority of the American people, which they have come to in a very painful way.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Republicans, meanwhile, say they have enjoyed watching Democrats debate their differences and have issued a stream of press releases and jabs in the Democrats' direction.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), Kentucky: It's been interesting to watch the Democrats debate among themselves exactly what position they might have. I think you will see demonstrated that Republicans are largely unified.

Parties have eye on elections

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, too, have an eye on the November elections and they're trying to paint Democrats as weak on national security.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), Senate Majority Leader: If we break our promise and cut and run, as some would have it do, the implications could be catastrophic.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), Texas: It appears that they have no unifying position and they have no plan to lead to victory in Iraq or to lead the American people during one of the toughest fights that our nation has ever endured.

Democrats responded to attacks

KWAME HOLMAN: New York's Hillary Clinton responded to the Republican attacks.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: They choose to tar all who disagree with an open-ended, unconditional commitment as unpatriotic, as waving the white flag of surrender. They may not have a war strategy, but they do have an election strategy. This is the road they took America down in 2002; it was a dead-end for our country then, and it's a dead-end now.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Clinton, whose potential presidential aspirations have brought added attention to her position on the war, distanced herself from John Kerry's date-specific resolution, choosing to support the broadly-worded Levin-Reed proposal.

But Minority Leader Harry Reid discounted the Democrats' differences when he met with reporters yesterday.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader: One thing Democrats agree on is this war has taken too long; it's too expensive; and costs too many lives; and too many soldiers injured.

We all agree there should be a change in the course of the war. We all agree that there should be a redeployment, starting sooner rather than later.

"Destructive for the Iraqi people"

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Republican Jon Kyl later countered Reid's logic, arguing either of the Democratic plans would harm not only the Iraqi people, but the wider U.S. effort against terrorism.

SEN. JON KYL (R), Arizona: So these concepts, whether it's an immediate withdrawal or simply the beginning of a phased withdrawal this year, with the president being required to submit a plan for complete withdrawal by the end of next year, are all part and parcel of the same thing, a message to the enemy: We are leaving. Here is our timetable for our leaving. All you have to do is wait until we're gone and then it's yours for the taking.

And that's not just destructive for the Iraqi people, Mr. President; the whole point of it is it's destructive for our entire policy in winning the war against the terrorists.

KWAME HOLMAN: Both Democratic resolutions are expected to be voted on tomorrow.