Two leading Republican senators broke from the Bush party line Friday, introducing legislation to push to president to prepare alternate strategies in Iraq. But with the legislation not requiring the president to take any specific action, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Saturday indicated a reluctance to support the efforts of Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., leaving it an open question as to whether the GOP effort would gain much in terms of Democratic support.
"Sen. Reid appreciates these two former [Senate committee] chairmen coming forward and expressing their clear discontent with the administration's policies in Iraq," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley on Saturday, referring to Warner, the former Armed Services Committee chairman, and Lugar, the former Foreign Relations Committee chairman. "They clearly recognize there is no purely military solution in Iraq and that the war, on its current course, is making this nation less secure."
But Manley indicated that Reid was not inclined to throw his considerable legislative weight behind their legislation. Warner and Lugar, he said, "put a lot of faith in the president, that he will voluntarily change course and voluntarily begin to reduce the large U.S. combat footprint in Iraq. Unfortunately, Sen. Reid is not as confident in the president's willingness to change course voluntarily. In the fifth year of the war, we need strong legislation that compels the president to change course, change the mission, and begin the reduction of U.S. troops."
That, Reid's spokesman said, is what Democratic legislation offered by Sens. Carl Levin, R-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., would achieve, since it would mandate that the president implement specific military maneuvers.
On the other side of this considerably fractious debate, the White House also indicated it opposes the Warner-Lugar effort.
"We respect Sens. Warner and Lugar and will review carefully the language they have proposed," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in a statement. But, he added, "we believe the new way forward strategy, which became fully operational less than a month ago, deserves the time to succeed. We look forward to hearing from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September."
The Warner-Lugar legislation, which the two Republicans hope to introduce as an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill currently being debated on the floor of the Senate, directs the president to present to the Congress by Oct. 16 a new strategy in Iraq -- one executable by the end of 2007 -- that would transition U.S. forces from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq." U.S. troops would be redeployed "as conditions permit" and would be steered towards training Iraqi security forces, staging counterterrorism operations, and guarding Iraqi borders.
Significantly, the bill would not require the president to begin actually carrying out the plan.
"I have great respect for the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, and the authorities granted to each in that document," Warner said in a statement on Friday.
Their legislation also suggests that the president should draw up a new war authorization, since the mission has changed so drastically from the October 2002 authorization to use force. But it does not require the president to do so, stating instead that the original findings that supported the war authorization of October 2002, "require review and revision," and as such, "Congress expects that the president will submit to Congress a proposal to revise" that 2002 bill.
That is considerably softer than an amendment being worked on by Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., that would rescind the original war authorization and mandate that the president write a new one.
Senior Republican Senate aides say there is some question among Republicans about whether Congress actually has the ability to compel legislation from the White House. So instead of "mandating" that the president send over a new request for authorized use of military force, Warner-Lugar says they "expect" him to. At the same time, these aides argue, it would be a major admission for President Bush to sign into law something that says the 2002 Iraq War authorization needs review.
In remarks not yet delivered on the Senate floor about his bill, Lugar states that "our amendment is not an attempt to bring final resolution to the disagreement between advocates of the surge and advocates of withdrawal. Rather, we are attempting to ensure that U.S. military and diplomatic policy is prepared for change when the Petraeus report arrives in September. We are hopeful that regardless of where senators stand on surge versus withdrawal, they will find our amendment to be a constructive bipartisan attempt to prepare for whatever policy follows in the coming months."
The administration this past week presented disappointing news in a report to Congress on political and security progress by the Iraqi government. And at the end of the past week, two different elements of the Bush administration delivered troubling news about future progress in Iraq.
On the political front, White House spokesman Tony Snow announced that the Iraqi parliament will not be in session for the month of August, though he cautioned that, "quite often when parliaments do not meet, they are also continuing meetings on the side. And there will be progress, I'm sure, on a number of fronts."
Militarily, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace told reporters Friday that the number of Iraqi battalions able to fight independently has actually shrunk, from 10 to six, which Pace said was largely because of losses in the field.
"As units operate in the field, they have casualties," Pace said, "they consume vehicles and equipment."
ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf and Jennifer Duck contributed to this report.