WASHINGTON – The Senate will be into a second week of debate Wednesday, but no votes are expected for another day on any of the various plans describing the sense of the chamber on when to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Senate Democrats have tried for more than a week to formulate a troop withdrawal plan for Iraq, having failed to come up with more than a start date, but no set end date for U.S. forces to leave the country. Even this position appears to be giving Democrats political indigestion as they silently acquiesce to delays that have put off a Senate vote on the "consensus" position.
Last week, liberal Democrats attending the Take Back America conference in Washington, D.C., wildly cheered any and all calls for swift U.S. troop withdrawals, but with the excitement past, Senate Democrats appear ready to settle instead for a proposal that calls for beginning to bring U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.
"This week, the Senate will have a chance, a chance to say to the Iraqi people that as of the middle of next year this becomes your responsibility," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Minority Whip, said Tuesday. "We will give you 12 months and more American lives and more American dollars and then, Iraq, you have to stand up and defend yourself."
The Senate Democratic plan, which currently has attracted 38 of a possible 44 caucus member votes, does not stipulate when all U.S. forces will leave Iraq. It simply calls for expedited "redeployment."
By Democratic definition, "redeployment" means U.S. troops in dangerous parts of Iraq will be moved to less dangerous provinces. It also means some U.S. forces in Iraq will be sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and others will be sent from Iraq to U.S. bases in Kuwait and Qatar. In the words of the plan's sponsor, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking Democrat, only a few U.S. forces in Iraq will actually come home.
Last week, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry vowed to push to bring all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by year's end. Most of the forces would be redeployed in the region as well, according to that plan. But when Kerry didn't move Monday to have his amendment called for consideration by the chamber, Senate Republicans sponsored it and the amendment went down to defeat 93-6.
Now, Kerry is pushing a different date for U.S. troop redeployments: July 1, 2007. Top Democratic aides said they expect that idea will crash under the same bipartisan opposition as Kerry's Dec. 31, 2006, exit date. Kerry is scheduled for time to come to the floor on Wednesday to speak on behalf of his new "redeployment" date.
The 2004 presidential candidate said he held back his original plan because Senate Democratic leaders discouraged him from going forward, preferring to present a unified position. Kerry's gone along so far, but the delay has only deepened the impression that Democratic divisions can't be finessed.
The lack of unity prevents Democrats from scoring the Iraq victory they earned last year when Senate Republicans were forced to sign onto binding language requiring 2006 to be a year "of significant transition" in Iraq that envisioned moving U.S. forces out when security conditions so allowed.
Republicans, feeling the heat of declining public support at the time, accepted the Democratic language under duress, a move they now regret because it gave the appearance that for the first time since the Iraq war began in 2003, Democrats were driving the debate.
Senate Republicans say they don't want to repeat that experience and are lining up against any effort to initiate U.S. troop withdrawals.
"It's an empowering event to terrorists because it would be seen by them that America is ready to withdraw if we'll just hang in there," Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said of any move to start withdrawing U.S. forces. "And it's a statement to the Iraqi people that we're going to leave because you're not doing your part.
"If I believed for one minute that the Iraqi people were lazy or indifferent to their own fate, I would ask for withdrawal yesterday. The truth is they are dying in droves, they are meeting the terrorists head-on and I'm proud to stand with them," he said.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.