Buoyed by the defections of senior Senate Republicans from the president's war strategy, Majority Leader Harry Reid today reached out to his colleagues across the aisle to put votes behind their rhetoric and change course on Iraq.
Setting the staging for the upcoming debate on the annual defense authorization bill before the Senate, Reid said, "I think we will find out in the next couple of weeks whether the Republicans who have said publicly they think the present course should change are willing to vote with us."
Reid was referring, of course, to the change of stance of GOP Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, all once supporters of the president's Iraq policy who have recently called for a change of course.
"We invite them to come with us. We put our arms around them. We do not push them away. We believe that there's sentiment in this country as evidenced by Republicans like Domenici speaking out loud saying that the policy should change," Reid said. "They will have many opportunities in the next couple of weeks to vote for that change."
Forcing Votes on Iraq
Congressional Democrats, led by Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will continue to push for an Iraq exit strategy, and they plan on using the next two weeks to force votes on the issue that won them the 2006 midterm election.
Though Republicans like Lugar and Domenici, while outspoken in their critique of the president's Iraq strategy, haven't indicated that they'll necessarily vote with the Democrats, Reid argued that Republican defections appear to be leading the White House to consider changing its mission in Iraq.
"A growing number of Republicans are now speaking against the failed strategy in Iraq, and that's good. And these Republican defections are apparently leading the White House to consider changing its mission. That's good."
Reid called on his Senate colleagues to seize the opportunity to change course in Iraq.
"The question is whether President Bush and the Senate Republicans will join in that effort. I hope they do. The American people expect this change, and they expect it now. For those Senate Republicans who are saying the right things on Iraq, they must put their words into action by voting with us to change course and responsibly end this war."
A Divisive Debate for the GOP
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as he prepares to lead his ever-fragmenting party into what will surely be a divisive debate, said that the onus is on his fellow Republicans to stay focused on the threat of terrorism.
"Everyone in this chamber has America's best interests at heart," said McConnell. "But it will fall on Republicans in this debate to be particularly awake to the complexity of the terrorist threat. It's no accident [that] we haven't been attacked at home in nearly six years. We've kept terrorists at arms length by bringing the fight to them."
Countering McConnell's argument, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., saying that he supported implementation of the Iraq Study Group recommendations when they were released last December, said that other senators are finally coming around to what he and other Democrats have been saying all along.
"We are at the forefront of attempting to bring a resolution in Iraq that will increase stability in the region, allow us to address issues of international terrorism and allow us, very importantly, to focus on our other strategic interests around the world," said Webb.
A bipartisan group of senators led by Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., are planning to offer a measure calling for the implementation of all of the Iraq Study Group's 79 recommendations.
Both Reid and Webb are planning to offer amendments as well.
The majority leader, along with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., wants to mandate a complete troop withdrawal by March 31, 2008, and cut off funding for combat operations after that.
In an amendment that has earned a fair amount of bipartisan support, Armed Services Committee member Webb, joined by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., wants to improve troop readiness by giving troops the same amount of time at home as the length of their previous tour overseas; this will be the first amendment that senators debate this week. Webb said that his amendment would lessen the burden that American soldiers have to bear.
"We are now in the fifth year of ground combat operations in Iraq," Webb said. "And this deck of cards is crashing down, and it's landing heavily on the heads of the soldiers and the Marines who have been deployed again and again while the rest of the country sits back and debates Iraq as an intellectual or emotional exercise."