Despite earlier suggestions from Senate Democrats that they would offer compromise legislation to change course in Iraq that could win the support of Republicans, Senate Democrats announced Tuesday afternoon that they were forgoing any softer language in their bills and would introduce Iraq-related legislation as aggressive as that in previous bills -- including two that called for withdrawing U.S. combat troops.
The announcement, which surprised some Republicans, suggested that Democrats see their position to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible from Iraq not only as not only correct in terms of policy but politically as well.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Tuesday afternoon that the Senate would vote this week on legislation ranging from extending the time troops are allowed to spend at home between tours -- a bill that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested should be vetoed -- to one that would mandate the withdrawal of almost all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by June 2008, a bill President Bush would unquestionably veto.
A withdrawal bill that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had suggested he would change by removing any hard and fast deadlines for troop withdrawal so as to win GOP support will, Reid announced, remain largely the same in substance.
"It's the same as it was before," Reid said. "Deadlines are in it, timelines are in it." And a rare bipartisan bill offered by Sens. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would suggest the implementation of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group from last December, will not be introduced.
"The original Iraq Study Group amendment doesn't require the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, anyone to do anything," said Reid. "It's just, 'Whip it out there, it sounds good.'"
The first bill to be debated, likely Wednesday, will be offered by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and would allow U.S. troops to spend at least as much time at home as they currently spend in combat overseas.
On ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" Sunday, Gates called the Webb amendment a "backdoor way" to withdraw U.S. troops.
"If we get this next phase wrong -- no matter how you feel about how we got to where we are -- the consequences of getting this wrong for Iraq, for the region, for us are enormous,'' Gates said.
Over the weekend, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the Webb amendment "blatantly unconstitutional."
"Where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that the Congress decides how long people will spend on tours of duty and how long they will spend back in the United States?" McCain asked.
Reid responded Tuesday, "We have a responsibility to work with the military and set policies for the military. Anyone who suggests the Webb amendment is unconstitutional either is not reading the law or someone's not explained it to them very well."
Also being offered is a bill by Reid and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that "basically says this," Reid said: "Redeploy by June of next year all American troops out of Iraq" except those engaged in counterterrorism or to protect U.S. assets, and a limited number to train Iraqi security forces.