Published January 17, 2007
WASHINGTON – Democratic senators, with the assistance of Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, have crafted a non-binding resolution against President Bush's plan to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq, saying that "escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq" is not in the national interest.
"Whereas the U.S. strategy and presence on the ground in Iraq can only be sustained with the support of the American people and bipartisan support from Congress ... it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq," reads the draft language provided to FOX News.
The resolution is being sponsored by Hagel and Democratic Sens. Joe Biden and Carl Levin. And a second Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, said Wednesday evening that she was throwing her support behind the resolution.
The word "escalating" in the non-binding resolution could alienate some Republicans who do not like Bush's plan but consider its use to be a partisan attack on the president. At least one Republican who has strongly opposed the president's plan to "surge" the number of troops in Iraq says he is going to ask Democratic leaders to change the wording.
Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon said he believes he still will vote in favor of the Democratic-led resolution, but the use of the term is "unfortunate."
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Wednesday that just as important as being a statement against troop escalation, the resolution says Congress wants "a strategy that can produce a political settlement in Iraq.
"That's the only way to stop the Shiites and Sunnis from continuing to kill one another and allow our troops to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind," he said.
Hagel said he was unsure how many other Republicans would support the resolution, but said the bill was not a partisan one.
"This resolution is not about trying to assign blame on the administration. ... This resolution is about how do we go forward. Can we find some consensus — some bipartisan consensus — a role that Congress can play to help this country find some high ground to the policy that will take us forward in Iraq and the Middle East," Hagel said.
The measure would not have the force of law but would express Congress' opposition to a buildup and could be used by Democrats to weigh Republican support for more aggressive legislative tactics. Democrats hope to use the resolution to denounce the president's plan in time for his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Also Wednesday, a number of Democrats, including likely 2008 presidential contenders, laid out competing proposals on how to proceed with funding efforts to expand the war and other political solutions.
Sen. Christopher Dodd — a 2008 presidential contender — outlined a bill he is introducing that would require a new war authorization from Congress. It would go beyond a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution that has also been discussed by Democratic leaders. Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer said they would join Dodd to push the bill forward.
"The authorization that Congress has given to the president before going into war in 2003 is no longer relevant," said Dodd, D-Conn. "I'm strongly opposed to the president's suggestion that we ought to be adding some 20,000 additional troops into Iraq, particularly 17,000 into the city of Baghdad."
Dodd said his plan would avert any questions over whether Congress would be removing support from troops in the field by setting a cap on the number of troops in Iraq to Tuesday's levels of 130,000 rather than on dollars spent there. Any increases in troop levels beyond that will have to be authorized by Congress.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton — considered by many to be the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 nomination — said she too opposes sending more troops and believes that more emphasis needs to be put into Afghanistan.
Clinton outlined a bill she will introduce that also plans to cap the number of troops in Iraq to Jan. 1, 2007, levels. The bill will state that ongoing authorization for U.S. forces in Iraq will be predicated on the Iraqi government's ability to meet a number of conditions, including progress on oil-sharing and other hydrocarbon-sharing plans, security, protections for the individual ethnic groups in Iraq and de-Baathificiation — the process of allowing former Baath party members into the government.
"I do not support cutting funding for American troops, but I do support cutting funding for Iraqi forces if the Iraqi government does not meet set conditions," Clinton said. "If the conditions are not met or not on their way to being met within six months, the congressional authorization requirement would be triggered," Clinton said.
"The bottom line is we have to change course," Clinton added.
Republican 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback took time on the Senate floor Wednesday to offer his approval for an Iraq peace plan that would create an Iraqi federation, similar to what Biden has suggested.
Calling for a bigger push from the administration for "political equilibrium" in Iraq, Brownback said one potential solution "could involve a three-state, one-country formula. Each of Iraq's major groups end up — would have its own autonomous region with Baghdad as a federal city. Each group could manage its own affairs while preserving Iraq's territorial integrity."
While calling on colleagues to brace for a lengthy U.S. presence in Iraq, Brownback said he strays from the Bush administration in its beliefs over talking with regional governments. Bush opposes cooperation with Iran and Syria, both of whom are said to be sending insurgents and weapons to Iraq, while Brownback said he believed it is vital to Iraq's long-term stability despite those countries' "meddling" there.
Bush last week outlined his plan for dealing with the sectarian violence in Iraq that the United Nations estimated Tuesday has caused 34,000 Iraqi civilian deaths in the last year.
The president said his plan, which calls for a temporary increase of 21,500 American forces as well as benchmarks for the Iraqi government, is not going to stop all the violence but should do enough to give Iraqis the power to control their own country.
"It's going to be hard to make Baghdad ... bomb-proof," Bush told the Lehrer Report in an interview on Tuesday. "We do believe it's possible to help the Iraqis, working side by side with the Iraqis, to secure some of these neighborhoods, which this government must do. It must provide for the security of its people."
The resolutions come as Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley try to sway skeptical Republican senators to support the president's new strategy for Iraq. At least three meetings were scheduled at the White House Wednesday, with Bush attending at least one.
Not only will the administration be arguing for the troop surge, but they will be lobbying against any congressional plans, including non-binding resolutions, to try to prevent the administration from sending more troops to Iraq.
A senior official who did not wish to be identified said the White House does not oppose lawmakers' voicing their opinions, "but a vote by Congress sends signals to different places."
Members of Congress, however, insist on being heard. Other Iraq strategies being proposed in Congress include:
— A bill introduced by Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, all of California, titled The Bring the Troops Home and Iraq Sovereignty Restoration Act that would force Bush to withdraw all U.S. forces in Iraq within six months and repeal the 2002 congressional Iraq war authorization.
— A resolution to be introduced by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham and John Kyl that expresses support for the Bush plan, saying that it can lead to success that is not necessarily contained within Iraq's borders. The language also would acknowledge that Iraq is part of the ongoing War on Terror.
— A plan from Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that would put in place some of the Iraq Study Group recommendations. It isn't clear if this would be a resolution or legislation.
— Legislation from Sen. Russ Feingold that he said would "require the administration to submit a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq within six months."
— A resolution introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson that says "Congress will not cut off or restrict funding for units and members of the Armed Forces that the commander in chief has deployed in harm's way in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom."
Johnson, R-Texas, is one of several Republicans in the House going on the offensive against Democrats, labeling their efforts as politically motivated and insisting they make sure troops already in the field would not be harmed by new legislation.
"This war in Iraq is America's war, and it's really high time that the Democrats stop playing politics with this. ... We will always stand behind our troops," he said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow suggested that a non-binding resolution might be seen by U.S. troops stationed in Iraq as a sign of weakening domestic support, and insurgents might see it as a sign of victory. Officials suggest that such a vote would send signals to Arab leaders in the region that Bush is losing the support of Congress.
Asked in the afternoon briefing what he thought of the ideas put forward by Clinton, Dodd and Kennedy to cap troops, Snow said it was "something no commander in chief would want to have."
"To tie the hands in a time of war is a pretty extreme move," Snow said.
But pointing to comments made by Clinton about problems she sees in Iraq, Snow said some areas are open for possible compromise, including proposals on achieving Iraqi political reconciliation among the warring groups, regional talks and other items. Snow downplayed differences as "disconnects," offering hope that some lawmakers still could be persuaded that the president's plan is a good one.
"There may be some disconnects that we can start trying to address, explaining how the pieces of the president's plan fit together," Snow said.
Snow also sidestepped questions about the possible White House reaction to the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution, saying that the administration is open to suggestions for better war policies, and "if you've got a better way to accelerate these goals, then we do want to hear them."
FOX News' Wendell Goler, Trish Turner and Molly Hooper contributed to this report.