Senate Delays Vote on Iraq War Resolution
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RAY SUAREZ: For a second day, efforts to kick-start the Senate debate on the president’s troop buildup in Iraq can’t get past go. It’s caught up in partisan positions on how best to proceed.
We begin with the Republicans. We get the view of Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. I spoke with him a short time ago.
Senator McConnell, welcome to the program.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: Glad to be with you.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s the latest version of the Republicans’ proposal for moving ahead with the debate on the Iraq resolutions?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, first of all, this is a debate we would like to have. We were anticipating having the Iraq debate this week.
In the Senate, it’s customary for the minority to be treated respectfully and to have at least several different proposals considered. Senator Reid and I have been in negotiation over the last few days trying to narrow down the various proposals that would be considered.
As we speak tonight, we’ve come down to one proposal, the proposal offered by Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, that would put the Senate on record as favoring funding support for the troops in Iraq. Unfortunately, the majority leader is objecting, so it appears as if we’re going forward here, if we go forward, without the minority having any amendments at all.
The Gregg amendment
RAY SUAREZ: Well, senator, in your back-and-forth negotiations on the Senate floor, said that the Gregg amendment, supporting continued funding for the troops, was not an answer, didn't book-end with the Warner resolution, which expresses displeasure with sending more troops into Iraq.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Yes, well, there are different points of view in the Senate. There are 100 members of the Senate with divergent points of view. It's actually fairly unusual on a matter of this level of controversy like Iraq to get down to just two proposals.
But we were prepared, since the majority only wanted to offer one, the Levin-Warner proposal, to just have one, they apparently don't want us to have any. And that's just unacceptable to the Senate minority. We're going to insist on fair treatment.
We do, however, think that this is an important debate. It's the biggest issue in the country. And we ought to be having the debate, rather than arguing over the rules of the debate.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the leading members of your caucus, Senator John McCain of Arizona, proposed an amendment which gave frank support to the president's desire to send more troops into Iraq. Why didn't you put that resolution forward, favoring the Gregg amendment instead?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we did. We tried to get both, to get both Senator McCain's proposal, which I support, and Senator Gregg's proposal, which I also support. But Senator McCain said, if the Democrats are insisting on only letting us have one, he graciously stepped aside and said, well, let's have the troop support amendment of Senator Gregg's.
So we tried several different reasonable proposals here to go forward with the debate. The majority is insisting on apparently only having one. And that's just not -- on a big, improvement controversial issue like this, to assume that the Senate would only have one vote on one subject is at variance with the entire history of the United States Senate.
And we have a robust minority of 49. Many of our members support what the president is trying to do and are insisting that we have several different options to vote on.
RAY SUAREZ: In the debate this afternoon on the Senate floor, didn't Majority Leader Reid propose a formula to have a vote on the McCain-Lieberman resolution?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, he wanted to dictate to us which ones we choose. That's unheard of here in the Senate. If we're only going to have one on the Republican side, the Democrats don't get to choose the Republican vote.
What we concluded was that we were only going to have one and the majority was only going to have one, the one that we would pick was the Gregg amendment. The majority doesn't get to dictate to the minority in the Senate what amendment the minority will offer.
Working towards an agreement?
RAY SUAREZ: When the business broke up last night, after Majority Leader Reid failed in his effort to get 60 to proceed, he said, "What you just saw was Republicans giving the president the green light to escalate in Iraq." Are you protecting the president with this maneuver?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: At the risk of repeating myself, we're prepared to have the debate this week to consider at least two alternatives, so we're not engaged in delaying. What we are engaged in is insisting on fair treatment in going forward with this debate on Iraq, which we frankly should have been having all day yesterday and all day today, rather than arguing over procedure.
RAY SUAREZ: And if these votes -- let me ask you straight up. Have you gotten any indication from the other side of the floor whether they're willing to entertain your latest proposal?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, Senator Reid objected when I offered a proposal to have a vote on the Levin proposal and a vote on the Gregg proposal. Senator Reid objected to it, I assume because he wants to tell us which one amendment -- which one resolution we may get to offer.
So all of this parliamentary tangle is probably somewhat confusing to your viewers. The point to remember is, Republicans in the Senate were ready for the debate on Iraq. We agree it's the most important issue in the country. But we insist, as a matter of fundamental fairness, that we have at least one resolution that the majority of our conference likes to be voted on.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you mentioned the Gregg amendment supports continued funding for the troops. Does it answer a question that anybody has asked? Has there been a proposal that runs counter to the Gregg amendment and would seek to remove their funding?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: There are a number of Democrats who have said that that's exactly what we ought to do. And so, you know, my assumption is that they might actually vote against the Gregg amendment, but we're optimistic that the Gregg amendment would get a very substantial bipartisan vote of support.
And I don't know why the Democratic majority is apprehensive about having a vote on a measure that indicates our support for funding the troops.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the continued wrangling over how to proceed on this now pose the problem of affecting other business that the Senate has to do?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: I think not. We'll be back on Iraq. It's a huge issue, a big issue, an important issue. It will be back before us on the supplemental appropriation to pay for the war. And I expect we'll be having Iraq debates off and on for many months to come.
RAY SUAREZ: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, thanks a lot, sir.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Thank you.
A new direction in Iraq
RAY SUAREZ: And now to the Democrats' position. We get that from Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Well, Senator, you just heard your colleague, Mitch McConnell, call this an acceptable compromise and say, I don't know why the Democratic majority is apprehensive about having a vote on a resolution to support the troops. Why are you?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR (D), Colorado: You know, the fact of the matter is, Ray, that this is all procedural smoke and mirrors. The Republican minority has made a decision here that they simply don't want to have a vote on the fundamental question which has been presented, and that is, should there be an escalation of troops to Baghdad, at 21,500, in the way that the president has proposed?
Majority Leader Reid has said we'll go ahead and we'll vote on two essentially Republican resolutions, one is a Warner resolution, the other one is the McCain resolution. We'll go ahead and we'll have votes on those. He's even offered a supermajority vote on either one of them, and that has been rejected by the Republican minority.
So I think the facts here are that they simply don't want to vote because they know that that vote would end up with the majority vote saying that the president is headed in the wrong direction here.
And what we really do need at the end of the day, Ray, here is a new direction for Iraq. And what we have proposed in the Warner resolution, of which I am an original co-sponsor, is a new direction. And we lay out that vision for success.
You know, Plan A has been the president's plan. It has not worked. Plan B would be what some people have said would be a precipitous withdrawal. Well, the plan that we propose under the Warner resolution is actually a vision for success, because we aren't saying no to the president's plan to escalate the military effort in Baghdad. It also sets out the parameters that we think are important, in terms of how we move forward in a successful strategy for Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: But on behalf of the Republicans on the floor this afternoon, Senator McConnell said, yes, let's go ahead and have a vote on the Warner resolution, as long as we have a vote on the Gregg resolution supporting funding for the troops, as well. Why was that not acceptable to your caucus?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: Again, there have been lots of procedural maneuvering back and forth. There was, at one point in time, conversations and, in fact, proposals to try to move forward with four different resolutions that would have included the Gregg resolution and an alternative resolution. But those were all rejected at the end of the day by the Republican minority.
And the reason that they have been rejected is because they simply don't want to have a vote at this time. They don't want to have a vote that would rebuff the president, as he moves forward with the escalation of this effort.
And for our side and for Majority Leader Reid, it's important that we do have a vote that, one, expresses our displeasure with the way that the president has decided to move forward in bringing in an additional 21,500 troops into the effort. And, second of all, it sets forth an alternative vision for success in Iraq.
And that was why this bipartisan resolution that was put forward by a wonderful Republican senator by the name of John Warner, joined by a number of Democrats, was a bipartisan resolution, gave that opportunity to the United States Senate. And what is being denied tonight, what is being denied today in the United States Senate is an opportunity to vote on that alternative vision for success.
Finding a common ground?
RAY SUAREZ: Over the last couple of days, various senators have expressed the desire for an open debate on the war and the way it's being waged now on the Senate floor and expressed a desire to get you and your colleagues on the record about how we move forward.
Is the debate more important than the vote? Would you be willing to compromise on the McConnell proposal on how to proceed, if it gets you to that debate and a vote on the Warner amendment?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: You know, I can tell you this honestly. Having seen Senator Reid work so hard on this matter, he has turned somersaults and circles to try to get to the point where, in fact, we could have a vote on the fundamental resolutions.
But the Republican minority simply does not want to have a vote on the very fundamental question, and that is, is there a surge that the United States Senate supports in Iraq, in the way that the president has proposed or not? That's the simple question.
There are two alternative resolutions out there. We have made suggestions on how we bring those to the floor. He's even offered a supermajority vote on those resolutions, but they've been rejected. And at the end of the day,
it because the Republican minority simply does not want to have a vote on this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you mentioned that Majority Leader Reid offered a supermajority vote. Do you think you have 60 votes on opposing the surge?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: You know, I think it would be close. You know, I have not done a count. I would imagine that the majority of the Democratic caucus would support the Warner-Levin resolution. And it we would be voted by -- we would be supported by a significant number of Republicans, Senator Hagel, Senator Coleman and others, who have been a part of that effort.
So I do think that that bipartisan resolution would, in fact, get more than a majority and perhaps more than 60 votes.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you have the reputation of having friendly relations on both sides of the chamber. Is this a tough vote for members, both in your own party and on the other side?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: Let me tell you what is the hardest thing about this whole thing for me, Ray, and that is that I believe that 100 members of the United States Senate do, in fact, support our troops. I also believe that all of us want to have success in Iraq. And having success in Iraq means creating stability in Iraq and the region and bringing our troops home.
There's also a number of us who believe that the president's plan and policy is a demonstration of mistake after mistake. And we need to have a new direction. Much of that new direction was set forth in the Iraq Study Group. Much of that new direction is set forth in the Warner-Levin resolution.
And we believe we ought to move forward in that direction. And it's not that the United States would be running away from Iraq. We're talking about staying in Iraq to preserve the territorial integrity, to chase al-Qaida with counterinsurgency efforts, to help make sure that the Iraqi military and police get trained so they can provide security to enhance the diplomatic efforts in Iraq.
We have a plan. We have a plan. The problem is that the Republican minority here is refusing us the opportunity to vote on that plan.
RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, Senator, before we go, given the state of play right now, do you think there is going to be a debate and a vote, on some resolution in some form, on adding more troops in Iraq?
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: I think that, at least for today, from the latest that I know, it appears that the Republican minority has effectively dropped the opportunity for us to have that debate today. But there will be other opportunities.
And this issue of Iraq is the defining issue for the beginning of this century for our country. It would be a major mistake for the United States Senate not to be involved in providing direction and input into how we move forward in Iraq. And there will be other opportunities for us to be able to do that.
My own personal hope is that there will be a bipartisan group of senators that can help us move forward together to get us out of the quagmire that we find ourselves in. It's a tough, tough issue, and ultimately, if it's going to be resolved, it's going to take a bipartisan effort.
And that's obviously not something that the Republican minority wants to support right now, because they don't want to make the statement in rebuffing the president that the president's plan and policy has, in fact, failed in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, thank you, Senator.
SEN. KEN SALAZAR: Thank you very much.