Senate Dems Send Bush a President's Day Message

ByZ. BYRON WOLF and NITYA VENKATARAMAN

Feb. 15, 2007 — -- In an effort to send a unified congressional message to the president opposing his Iraq strategy, Democratic Senate leaders announced a Saturday vote on the anti-surge resolution that the House is expected to pass tomorrow.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scheduled a cloture vote -- which limits debate and moves the bill toward a vote on final passage -- on the anti-surge resolution opposing President Bush's increase of 21,500 troops in Iraq.

"The Republican-controlled Senate was silent on Iraq for four years," Reid said. "We demand an up or down vote on the resolution the House is debating."

The simply worded House resolution has been debated for the past three days and, in a landscape where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a significant margin, will almost certainly pass.

Conversely, a more complicated bipartisan resolution has languished in the Senate for weeks.

Reid's political maneuver is twofold: to pass a Senate version of the anti-surge resolution and to push public perception that Republicans are blocking the Senate debate on the troop increase.

Congress was scheduled to begin its first break of the session this President's Day weekend. Reid's move forces the Senate to remain in Washington.

"We are going to give our troops and the American people the debate they deserve," said Reid.

The cloture vote needs 60 votes to pass, and it is not clear that Reid has them. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Assuming defections from the Senate GOP and perfect attendance (hardly guaranteed given weekend campaign schedules of senators-cum-presidential hopefuls), Reid can expect 57 votes at most.

Following Reid's press conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained that it was Reid who was stifling the Iraq debate.

"I am disappointed the Democratic leader will yet again block a vote on funding the troops in Iraq," McConnell said.

He said that Republicans would continue to "insist on having a vote on funding the troops" as an alternative to the anti-surge resolution.

McConnell also assailed the press for misreporting this story.

He said it's not that Republicans are delaying a vote on the president's surge, it's that they are insisting on an "adequate measure of fairness not seen in the House but insisted upon in the Senate."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who accompanied McConnell, was asked off-camera if Senate Republicans were trying to shield the president by blocking the anti-surge vote. Lott contended the issue was fair debate, not political cover, and added his own Mississippi dash.

"You can't hide behind a Bush in the Senate. Eventually, you've got to ante up and kick in," Lott said.

In his first press conference of the year Thursday, Bush dismissed the ongoing congressional debate opposing his Iraq policy, noting the bills have been nonbinding and largely symbolic -- and called on Congress to pass spending legislation needed to finance the war.

"Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission," the president said. "We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail."

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