Senate rejects troop-withdrawal measures
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled Senate rejected two Democratic measures Thursday calling for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, votes that were less an attempt to legislate than a test of Democratic unity on an issue that could prove decisive in November's congressional elections and the 2008 presidential race.
An overwhelming majority of the chamber's Democrats — including Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell — backed a resolution that urged President Bush to start the troop redeployment by the end of this year but stopped short of setting a deadline for complete withdrawal.
Some Democratic leaders hailed the support for the proposal, which was designed to signal to Iraqis that they need to assume more control of their country, as an expression of party cohesion.
"When you get 80 percent of the Democrats agreeing on the specifics of a policy, folks, you've got a strong consensus of Democrats," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the resolution's sponsors.
The measure lost, 60-39, but Levin and his co-sponsor, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., noted that all but six of the Senate's Democrats voted for it, as did one Republican.
"I think the message that we are sending here is that we want us to succeed in Iraq, but ... the time of a blank check [for the administration's policies] must come to an end," said Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
The second withdrawal measure, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., would have required the administration to immediately begin withdrawal and complete it by July of next year. It was soundly defeated, 86-13, with 31 Democrats — including Murray and Cantwell — joining 55 Republicans in voting against it.
Both measures were offered as amendments to a largely noncontroversial $571 billion defense bill that passed 96-0 later in the day.
Republicans, as expected, stoutly rebuffed the characterizations of Bush's Iraqi policy as a failure and attacked both Democratic measures as a call for retreat.
After the votes, Vice President Dick Cheney said on CNN: "Absolutely the worst possible thing we could do at this point would be to validate and encourage the terrorists by doing exactly what [the Democrats] want us to do, which is to leave."
The Republicans welcomed the Senate debate; GOP strategists believe discussions of national security and the threat of terrorism work to their party's political benefit.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., pressed that case before Thursday's votes, saying that the spirit of the Democratic proposals was "the spirit of defeatism and surrender. This is not the spirit that made America the great nation it is today."
With polls showing a majority of the public is dissatisfied with the White House's handling of the war, Democrats are hoping this discontent will translate into gains in the November elections that will give them a majority in one or both houses of Congress.
"It's time to change course from the slogans, the attacks and the continual misleading," Reed said. "Demanding a change of course is not irresponsible. It's not unpatriotic. It's the right thing to do."
Last Friday, the growing split between Republicans and Democrats on the Iraq war was underscored by a House vote on a resolution that opposed setting an "arbitrary date" for U.S. troop withdrawal. The nonbinding measure passed in the GOP-controlled chamber, but roughly 75 percent of House Democrats voted against it.
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