WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed a nonbinding resolution that concludes "it is not in the national interest of the United States" to deepen U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
The measure, passed on a 12-9 vote, goes to the Senate floor for a vote before the full chamber, which is expected sometime next week.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush got positive news today when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved his pick for command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, to go before the Senate Thursday for full approval that is expected. (Full story)
Petraeus would replace Gen. George Casey.
The resolution is the first attempt by the new Democratic-controlled Congress to check President Bush's authority to send more troops to Iraq. The measure was opposed by all the panel's Republicans except co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Hagel.
"We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," said Hagel, of Nebraska, before the vote.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the panel's chairman, said the legislation is "not an attempt to embarrass the president. ... It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq."
The action was not a surprise, a senior White House official told FOX News after the vote.
"The vote came out as we expected it would. As the president said last night, we understand that members have differences of opinion, but that he asked that they give the plan a chance to work," the official said.
Some Republicans agree that the president's plan seems unlikely to make a significant step toward reducing sectarian violence in Iraq and finding a political solution, but several Republicans said the resolution sent the wrong message.
"I oppose this nonbinding resolution on the basis that it's the wrong tool" for Congress to use to get the president to change his policy, said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking member on the panel. Lugar admitted he is "not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed."
"It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification of our Iraq policy," Lugar continued. "The president is deeply invested in this plan, and the deployments ... have already begun."
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he didn't support the resolution because he didn't believe it would affect administration policy, and he believed it wouldn't give troops the right message.
"So, in essence, what I'll be doing the next time if I see them, if I vote for this resolution, is to say: I'm opposed to you being there, but thank you for what you're doing," Corker said.
Biden, who sponsored the measure with Hagel and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the measure is aimed at getting the administration's attention. He noted that Bush has said he will be moving forward with his Iraq plans he outlined in a Jan. 10 address regardless of what Congress says.
The measure "is designed to let the president know that there are many in both parties, Democrats and Republicans, that believe a change in our mission to go into Baghdad — in the midst of a civil war — as well as a surge in ground troops ... is the wrong way to go, and I believe it will have the opposite — I repeat — opposite effect the president intends," Biden said.
At the last minute, Biden changed one of the more controversial parts of the resolution — changing the word "escalating" to "increasing" — to reduce criticism that the measure is too partisan.
The primary statement in the resolution now reads: "[I]t is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by increasing the United States military force presence in Iraq."
Democrats hold 11 seats on the committee, while Republicans hold 10.
Several other proposed resolutions and amendments were voted down before the resolution passed. One by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., would have changed the language to say flatly that the troop level in Iraq "may not exceed the levels" in place — specifically 137,500 — before Bush announced his new policy.
Dodd and Biden entered into a testy exchange in which Biden said Dodd's proposal would "codify the status quo." He then offered to work with Dodd on separate legislation binding the president on the number of troops.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he wanted the nonbinding measure changed to allow Bush to increase troops in the Anbar province in western Iraq, but not in Baghdad, where the sectarian violence is particularly fierce.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who chastised fellow lawmakers for not responding forcefully to Bush, said he would seek separate legislation cutting off funds for any troop buildup.
A separate nonbinding resolution did not get a vote in the panel, but clearly drove conversation.
That resolution, co-sponsored by Coleman and Sens. John Warner, R-Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is seen as a softer criticism of the president. It states "the Senate disagrees with the plan to augment our forces by 21,500, and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives for achieving the strategic goals set forth below with reduced force levels than proposed."
Introducing the measure on Monday, Warner said he would wait to see what came out of Biden's committee before deciding what to do with his proposal. At the outset of Wednesday's hearing, Biden said he was prepared to work with Warner to come to a resolution that both senators could agree to, especially if it would generate more support for the measure.
"I am completely, totally open to sitting down with Sen. Warner and negotiating something that will accomplish the end, which I will not yield, saying, 'Mr. President, please don't proceed with the policy you've outlined,' " Biden said.
Still unclear is whether the Democratic senators will have enough support next week to break a threatened filibuster and pass the resolution. Democrats would need 60 votes to override a filibuster. The Senate is divided 51-49 in favor of Democrats. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is absent recovering from a brain hemorrhage.
But the list of Republicans supporting some sort of measure disagreeing with the president's war policy continues to grow and now includes Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, George Voinovich of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Their distance from Bush comes despite the president's call — reiterated in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night — to give his plans a chance to work.
"I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Collins, who added that she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators but as occupiers."
Republican supporters of the president have said a resolution that rebukes the president would undermine his authority around the world.
"Certainly, the debate itself is encouraging to our adversaries. There is no question about that," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told FOX News.
"On the other hand, this is a free country. This is a Democratic country. The war is unpopular at this point. ... Nevertheless, it is going to be encouraging to our opponent."
FOX News' Bret Baier Trish Turner and Greg Simmons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.