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.
Senate Democrats Vow Tough Iraq Legislation
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.'"
Gates Calls Webb Amendment 'Backdoor Way" to Withdraw Troops
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."
Reid: Redeploy All U.S. Troops by June 2008
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.
Another bill, offered by Levin and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., will begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Legislation offered by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Reid said, would emphasize that the war can only be won diplomatically.
On the House side, Democratic leaders don't seem eager to take up this fight right now.
Rather, House Democrats seem exasperated with having spent political capital to pass legislation to change course in Iraq only to have the bills die in the Senate because of GOP opposition and the 60-vote requirement for any action.
So for now, at least, House Democratic leaders seem content, at least in the short term, waiting for the Senate to take the lead.
'You're Going to See Republicans Jumping Ship'
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., predicted Monday night that the pattern of nothing of any real substance being able to pass Congress would hold until next spring. "As soon as the primaries are over, you're going to see Republicans jumping ship," Murtha said in a speech at the National Press Club.
There does seem to be some momentum among House moderates of both parties for a bill offered by Reps. John Tanner, D-Tenn., Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and Phil English, R-Pa., that would require the president to draw up plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, without requiring him to carry those plans out.
But liberal Democrats have pushed hard against the Tanner-Abercrombie legislation, which they see as toothless.
Priority to Change Course in Iraq
As is the dilemma among Senate Democrats, any House bill that would likely garner more GOP support wouldn't force much of a change of course in Iraq.
Asked today by ABC News if it was a priority to win GOP support for an Iraq bill even if that meant a weaker bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said simply, "It is a priority to change policy in Iraq."
He rejected the notion that the slight drawdown of troops to presurge levels that Bush announced last week was any sort of policy change. The president, Hoyer charged, "wants to return to [troop levels] exactly where we were in November of last year when the American people said they wanted a new direction."