WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declared Tuesday that "surrendering is not a solution" in Iraq as Democrats embraced a proposal to start troop withdrawals this year, setting up an election-year showdown in the GOP-controlled Senate.
"We cannot retreat. We cannot surrender. We cannot go wobbly. The price is far too high," said Frist, R-Tenn., suggesting that Democrats want to do just that.
Answering, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, disputed the GOP characterization of the Democrats' position and said: "We have to serve notice on the Iraqis that their future has to be in their own hands."
Fierce debate on Iraq spilled over into a second week on Capitol Hill as Democrats prepared to introduce a nonbinding resolution on Iraq that calls for redeployments to begin this year but does not set a firm deadline by which all forces must be out of the war zone.
In what Republicans and Democrats alike are billing as perhaps the Senate's largest debate on Iraq since the war began in spring 2003, the Senate was expected to take up and vote on the resolution Wednesday.
The Senate also is to consider and vote on a separate proposal by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would require the administration to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007. It's expected to fail overwhelmingly.
On a related matter, the Senate voted 79-19 on a nonbinding resolution that says the Iraqi government should not grant amnesty to people known to have attacked, killed or wounded U.S. forces. It approved a second resolution, on a 64-34 vote, that says Congress recognizes Iraq as a sovereign country and respects that country's "exercise of that sovereignty."
Democrats introduced the first symbolic statement last week after a newspaper report that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was considering a limited pardon for insurgents who had attacked U.S. troops.
The Iraq debate comes a week after the GOP-controlled Senate and House soundly rejected timetables for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, back-to-back votes that forced lawmakers in both parties to go on record on the issue less than five months before midterm elections.
As the U.S. death toll and war spending continue to climb, polls show the public increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the conflict.
Democrats in Congress have long been split over the way ahead in Iraq, and Republicans have sought to highlight those divisions in recent weeks. In control of Congress, the GOP is seeking a political advantage as recent polls show the public favoring Democrats to run the House and Senate.
Senate Democrats brushed aside calls by some of their rank-and-file for a firm withdrawal timetable and on Monday proposed the resolution that would urge — but not require — the administration to begin "a phased redeployment of U.S. forces" this year. It also would call for the administration to give Congress by year's end its plan for "continued redeployment" after 2006.
Additionally, the resolution would call for American troops, which have been focused on combat operations in Iraq, to more quickly transition to "a limited mission of training and logistic support of Iraqi security forces, protection of U.S. personnel and facilities, and targeting counterterrorism activities."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., backs the resolution, and his aides say they expect 38 to 40 Democrats and a few Republicans to vote for the symbolic statement. However, they don't expect to get the 51 votes needed to attach the resolution to an annual military bill.