WASHINGTON – As U.S. and Iraqi forces prosecute a new phase of the Iraq war, Democrats elected to accelerate the end of the war are finding themselves stymied by divisions within the party, but that hasn't stopped them from coming up with new approaches.
Many Democrats are asking questions of President Bush that voters might have thought Democratic lawmakers would have answered for themselves.
"It's a question about our situation in Iraq. How much longer this war will go on, how long will the surge be before we can make an evaluation?" Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday after a bipartisan, bicameral meeting with the president at the White House.
The question implies a Democratic admission that the U.S. troop surge in Baghdad and Al Anbar province, which is well under way since Bush's announcement of the plan in January, won't be stopped despite the fact that Democrats have vigorously opposed it.
By the back-and-forth over different efforts to stop the Iraq war, it would appear Democrats aren't on the path to ending the war or beginning to end the war.
"We're trying to make policy, we're trying to create consensus, for action we hope we can do that; we think we're working on that," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.
But Democrats continue to try. Durbin told FOX News on Wednesday that Senate Democrats have crafted a binding bill that modifies the 2002 Iraq war authorization and they are circulating it among members. Durbin told FOX News that the measure "parallels" a nonbinding resolution first offered by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., that called for a phased redeployment of U.S. troops to begin within six months of passage of the bill. It would also move troops, per the Iraq Study Group recommendation, to a supportive rather than combat role.
Durbin said the focus is on redeployment, and the new bill is expected to be complete as early as Thursday night. He called it "a redefinition of the future mission" in Iraq.
The new measure appears to have support from many sides. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., highly critical of any effort that could be seen as reauthorizing a new mission in Iraq, said his views were taken into account with the new legislation.
"I raised very strong objections. The draft I've just seen meets virtually all of my objections," Feingold said. "I am feeling much better about it this week than I was last week. I will only vote for things that either eliminate or limit this mission. ... [The current draft] is a severe limitation on this mission that is in effect, in my view, stopping the current authorization, though it may not exactly read that way."
But consensus is elusive. Democratic leaders have been paralyzed before by divisions between liberals like Feingold, who want the United States out of Iraq now, and moderates, who are looking at the stakes of a premature departure.
On top of that, a 60-vote threshold is needed to avoid a GOP filibuster. The current Senate is 50-49-1, Democrat to Republican, with independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman supporting the Bush administration policy.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a critic of the administration who has been pushing a regional solution that includes Iran, said the challenge in the past has been coming up "with some sort of statement where you can meaningfully get it to the floor with 60 votes, and that's been fairly difficult."
Republicans say they consider the Democratic woes on Iraq the price of over-promising.
"This has really developed into the winter of discontent for Democrats," said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss. "They thought they had an easy thing here with Iraq. This was the issue that helped them retake the Congress and they'd just do whatever they wanted to. But now they've gone through about nine iterations."
In fact, the list of Democratic maneuvers is long, and the differences they have made in war policy is hard to discern.
Last month, the House passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop surge. Senate Democratic leaders embraced three different versions of such a resolution, but couldn't pass any of them.
House Democrats also sought to block the surge by denying funding in an emergency war funding bill for combat troops that didn't meet Pentagon training and equipment standards. But an uprising among moderate House Democrats scuttled that plan, and it has been replaced with standards the president can waive.
"The majority of the [Democratic] caucus would say, 'Let's be really strong in forcing the president out of here.' Well, some of us are really uncomfortable playing general, and you're going to see that reflected in what we vote on," Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a member of the Blue Dog centrists said of Iraq-related legislation.
For a time, Senate Democrats sought to revoke the original 2002 Iraq war authorization to provoke a massive troop withdrawal. Tepid reaction forced Democrats to back away, instead opting for the latest measure that calls for troop withdrawals starting in six months.
"What the leadership, I think, is looking for is a way to restate where are goals are now, with the end goal being a complete withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq," Webb said.
Lott said Democrats have no chance of stopping the surge or defunding the war without Republican approval. That confidence comes even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that Gen. David Petraeus, head of the Multinational Force in Iraq, requested an extra 2,200 military police in addition to the 21,500 combat troops provided by the surge and the 2,400 other troops designated to support them.
"That's a new requirement by a new commander," Gates said at a Pentagon briefing late Wednesday.
FOX News' Major Garrett and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.