WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats won their first major vote against the Iraq war. Now they need to get some Republicans on board.
A resolution swiping at President Bush's Iraq war plans is headed to the full Senate as early as next week as administration officials and Republican leaders labor to keep the effort from gaining more GOP support.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed 12-9 a resolution that dismissed Bush's plans to increase troops in Iraq as "not in the national interest." The vote on the nonbinding measure was largely along party lines, with Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska being the sole Republican on the committee offering his support.
"The president has made his decision," Vice President Dick Cheney fired back in a CNN interview, a response that made it clear the administration would go ahead anyway. "We need to get the job done."
Republicans have been meeting behind closed doors to shore up support for the Iraq war plan. The Senate is tied 49-49 between the two parties, with two independents caucusing with the Democrats. That means either party needs help from the other in order to achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and advance legislation.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has threatened to filibuster the Iraq resolution.
Senate Democratic leaders say they are willing to negotiate the language to pull in more GOP support. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who sponsored a rival proposal, has already met with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and others to discuss his position.
"The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday that the resolution the committee approved is not the last that will be heard from Congress.
"A resolution that that says we're against this escalation, that's easy. The next step will be how do you put further pressure on the administration against the escalation, but still supporting the troops who are there," he said on NBC's "Today" program.
"That's what we're figuring out right now," Schumer added. "But this will not be the end. There will be other resolutions with more teeth in it afterwards and my bet — they'll get a majority of support and significant Republican support."
As the two sides try to find consensus, the State Department's senior Iraq adviser, David Satterfield, planned to testify Thursday on reconstruction efforts before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While most Republicans refused Wednesday to back the Iraq resolution, some of them suggested their position may change.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he believed the resolution could be viewed as a political attack on Bush and misinterpreted "by our enemies as abandoning Iraq." But, he added, he remained skeptical that additional troops in Baghdad would be successful.
"I have been waiting for the administration to extend an olive branch in an attempt to forge a compromise" that would make clear "we stand united as a nation," he said. "I obviously have been disappointed since that has not happened."
Voinovich and like-minded GOP senators say they might be willing to sign on to a measure backed by Sens. Warner, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Warner, a prominent Republican and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, cast his measure as a milder alternative. It leaves open the possibility of Bush sending in a much smaller number of troops, particularly to the western Anbar province, and uses language that some say may be seen as less partisan.
"I think this is just the beginning," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Murkowski voted against the resolution but not before voicing her opposition to sending more troops to Iraq.
"I feel that I have to tell (Bush), and the administration, where I'm coming from, what I have learned, what I'm hearing from my constituents, from those who have been over there," she said.
While Warner said he is willing to discuss his resolution with Democrats, the two sides have substantial differences. Warner's resolution, for example, explicitly states that the president commands the U.S. forces and the resolution is not intended to "question or contravene such authority."
Democrats said such a provision raises flags because it suggests the Congress cannot implement stronger measures, such as cutting off funding.