Senate Debates U.S. Troop Tours in Iraq
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KWAME HOLMAN: Many congressional Democrats aren’t accepting the plan laid out last week by General David Petraeus. He said U.S. combat troop numbers in Iraq would fall too close to the 130,000 pre-surge level by next summer.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I’ve called repeatedly for a responsible end to the foreign policy disaster that this administration has created.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats say Petraeus’ strategy amounts to an unwinnable status quo in Iraq. This week, they renewed their efforts to bring home more troops sooner.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: We on this side of the aisle are not going to stop waging the hard but necessary fight to responsibly end this war.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revived a defense policy bill to serve once again as the vehicle for Democrats’ efforts. But as was the case in the July war debate, any plan to withdraw troops will require 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
SEN. HARRY REID: The fight to end the war in Iraq and refocus our efforts against those who attacked us on 9/11 has now raged in this chamber and throughout the country for months. No, Madam President, not months, for years.
On one side, Democrats stand united. On the other side, most of our Republican colleagues, including some of whom have publicly questioned the current course, stand with the president and his failed policies.
Democrats offer amendments
KWAME HOLMAN: Now the Democrats are offering old amendments and new ones. Outspoken war opponent Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, joined by leader Reid, wants all U.S. forces out of Iraq by next June, except a small counterterrorism and special operations force. After the redeployment, further funds for the Iraq war would be cut off.
Delaware's Joe Biden offered a new measure, stating that Congress should "actively support a political settlement among Iraq's major factions."
A plan from Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin would begin to re-deploy troops out of combat within 90 days with a deadline for full withdrawal from combat to follow in nine months. A similar plan fell eight votes short in July.
Also revived is Jim Webb of Virginia's requirement that home leaves for troops last at least as long as their deployments. Currently, the Pentagon cannot make that guarantee.
Many Republicans are sympathetic to that idea, and seven of them voted with Webb last summer, still four short, however, of the 60-vote bar.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), Virginia: I endorsed it. I intend now to cast a vote against it.
KWAME HOLMAN: In an ominous sign for the Webb amendment, one of his previous Republican allies, fellow Virginian John Warner, took the floor today to say he could not support it this time.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I agree with the principles that you've laid down in your amendment, but I regret to say that I've been convinced by those in the professional uniform that they cannot do it and do it in a way that wouldn't invoke further unfairness to other soldiers now serving in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Webb spent much of the day defending his call for equal rest time and deployments, against the administration's charges that it is unconstitutional and would tie the hands of commanders.
SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), Virginia: This amendment is not only constitutional, not only responsible, but it is needed. It is needed in a way that transcends the politics. After four-and-a-half years, in the environment in Iraq, it's time that we put into place operational policies that sensibly take care of the people we are calling upon to go again and again.
KWAME HOLMAN: But last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates disagreed.
ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: As well-intentioned as many of these proposals are, I think the reality is they become very difficult for us to manage in and end up imposing some real hardships on, not only on our forces, but also potentially impacting combat effectiveness and risk.
Republicans counter amendment
KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona's John McCain accused Democrats of using Republican goodwill toward the Webb amendment as a convenient way to try to force an end to a war they dislike.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: So what's this debate about? This debate is about whether we will force, as Senator Biden was quoted, "the easiest way" for his Republican colleagues to change the war strategy and a backdoor approach aimed at influencing the conduct of the war. Not only that, it's blatantly unconstitutional.
KWAME HOLMAN: South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham agreed.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: So if you think it's all the things I said before -- lost, hopeless, stupid, worst decision ever made in terms of U.S. foreign policy -- end the thing, end it. Cut off funding. Don't play this game of having 535 people become generals who have no clue of what they're talking about.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski said a vote to cut off funding for the troops was not a possibility.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), Maryland: I'm going to support the Webb amendment because I'm never going to vote to cut off money. But I will vote to protect our troops, and the best way is at least to give them more time. While we're giving the Iraqis more time, how about giving our troops more time to be at home? I'm really hot about this.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, the Webb amendment again fell short, garnering fewer Republican votes than in July. Votes on the other Iraq measures are expected later this week.