WASHINGTON – One Republican senator who co-sponsored an amendment to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by April 30, 2008, said Democrats missed their chance to win over Republicans because of theatrics that offered no substance to the debate.
Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon said Democrats could have gotten several more Republican votes if they had not forced senators to remain at work through the night and squandered the moment by holding photo-ops of rollaway beds being brought into the Capitol.
"Clearly this was more about theater than getting votes. There was some big speeches and a lot of small actors in the end," Smith said. "But I don't want to minimize the importance of the debate. ... I can think of a number of colleagues that were gettable, but because of the unnecessary tactics like staying up all night, it hardened them."
Smith said he was pleased that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday to seek advice from senators on the way forward in Iraq following the failed Democratic-led vote to change the mission there.
Smith said he applauded the Bush administration for reaching out to lawmakers who don't see eye to eye and for seeking out "someone with my views" on Iraq.
"Public opinion is not irrelevant in a war. You can't win or move forward without the American people," said Smith. A spokesman for the senator noted that Rice and Smith talk often about Iraq and she is seen as one of the more reasonable, cooler heads in an administration not known for this.
Smith added that he hopes the administration seizes the opportunity to use a report to be issued in September to come up with a new plan. The report is to be compiled and delivered to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Multinational Forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Senate Democrats tried to get ahead of that September deadline by using an interim progress report out last week to call the all-night session that preceded another vote demanding U.S. troops come home early next year.
But the 52-47 vote fell eight shy of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move toward passage. Four Republicans voted with the Democrats: Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Smith.
Collins — who also supports troop withdrawals — said she voted along with Democrats for the cloture vote because she opposed a filibuster of the defense authorization bill amendment written by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed. The statement said she would have voted against the bill had it come to a final vote "because of her opposition to some of its provisions."
But a number of Senate aides to moderate members told FOX News that a dozen Republican senators are ready to split with the Bush administration and force a change in the mission come September, should the administration not do so on its own. Those GOP lawmakers include top Senate Republicans and chairmen of powerful committees as well as lesser-known members up for re-election.
"For good or for bad," Smith said, the administration has "created an expectation that there will be a different course" come September. If that does not happen, Smith predicted that at least 60 votes could be counted in the Senate to force a change in Iraq,
"I can think of a lot of names, but I'll let them out themselves," he said.
And the senator offered what seemed like advice for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, moving forward, "There is a governing center on this issue, but there needs to be the political leadership to find this."
When asked if Levin-Reed would bring the Iraq war to an end or get U.S. troops out of harm's way as Democrats have claimed in recent days, Smith retorted, "Course not. It specifically leaves us in the fight against Al Qaeda.
"It will take time to figure out the Iraqi role and our role. ... It gives us an honorable way home and protects the American people and our interests in a very troubled part of the world," he said..