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Senators Continue to Mull New Course in Iraq

July 11, 2007 at 6:05 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: That Senate showdown over pulling troops from Iraq, Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: If Senate Democrats want to change the course of the Iraq war through legislation, they’re going to need more Republican support to do it.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: Many of us have voted over and over and over again for a change.

RAY SUAREZ: As senators plowed through the annual defense authorization bill, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is insisting on 60-vote majorities to approve any Iraq-related amendments. Senate rules allow him to do that.

A test vote of sorts came today on an amendment requiring troops be given just as much time home between deployments as they spend overseas. Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran, said the troops are near burn-out.

SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), Virginia: We’re saying, after four years of a ground occupation in Iraq, we have a responsibility to get some stability into the operational tempo.

Republicans fight back

RAY SUAREZ: Since such a measure would leave fewer troops available for deployment, most Republicans called that a backdoor attempt to shut down the war.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: I'm here to say I think it's a terrible idea. I don't think it's remotely a good idea. The intent of the amendment is to take care of the troops. I don't question anybody's intent or motivation. If you want to take care of the troops, let them win.

RAY SUAREZ: Even with seven Republican defectors, Democrats fell four votes short of the 60 needed. Democratic whip Dick Durbin spoke after the vote.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: Mitch McConnell realized yesterday he couldn't win an up-or-down vote on the Webb-Hagel amendment, and so he used his advantage under the Senate rules to require this majority of 60, which we couldn't reach. We have 56; I think we can reach 60.

I hope those who care for the military families and members of those military families will reach out to the senators who did not support us, ask us to remember their heroes, their warriors, who should be home resting and retraining and preparing for their next round of battle.

McConnell requires 60 votes

RAY SUAREZ: This year, McConnell has successfully managed to hold a bloc of Republicans just large enough to deny Democrats victories on any major Iraq legislation.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: It's just totally routine. And for our friends on the other side to act like there's something unusual about this is stunning and certainly not believable. So on a matter, certainly on a matter as controversial as our policy in Iraq, I think we can all stipulate that it's likely to require 60 votes. When they were in the minority, they were doing that sort of thing every week, all the time.

RAY SUAREZ: Despite today's setback and the expected presidential veto should any of their Iraq provisions slip through, Democrats are resigned to holding votes to put Republicans on the record.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), Washington: We are going to continue, every one of us who go home every weekend, as I do, to see those families and the tears in their eyes and asking us to please be there to truly support them. And I think that national pressure is going to continue to stay on the Senate and hopefully be able to lead us to a 60-vote margin on this amendment and on others.

Republicans up for re-election

RAY SUAREZ: One Republican who might be feeling pressure is Norm Coleman of Minnesota who's up for re-election next year. Coleman was one of the seven to cross the aisle and side with the Democrats today, but he says he won't vote for a timetable to withdraw the troops.

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), Minnesota: Do we need a changed mission? We can't be fighting their battles. They have to step up and do it. Will we be there a long time? Yes, we will, but not in the center of a civil war, not in the center of fighting the Iraqis' battles. There will be a redeployment; I suspect a significant withdrawal over time. But I'm not one who's going to tell the enemy, "Here's the date that we're getting out."

RAY SUAREZ: The Senate is expected to vote next week on an amendment to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days, and various versions of that proposal are expected, as well. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is expected to hold its own vote on troop withdrawals tomorrow.