June 25, 2006 -- In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's plan for insurgent amnesty, saying, "Granting amnesty to people who have killed Americans is not acceptable and I don't believe that is what the Iraqi government wants to do."
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., also appearing exclusively on "This Week," concurred.
"I can understand the concept of reconciliation, but there's also a concept of responsibility," said Durbin, the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate. "[If amnesty were granted] would you want to leave your son in uniform as an American solider in that country?"
The newly installed Maliki issued a 24-point national reconciliation plan to Iraq's parliament on Sunday, including amnesty for insurgents who had not committed acts of terrorism. On "This Week," McConnell downplayed the possibility that those who had killed or injured American soldiers might escape justice.
"We don't expect that to happen," McConnell told chief Washington correspondent Stephanopolous.
But Durbin cautioned, "Think of the lives we have put on the line," suggesting Maliki's call for amnesty could include terror leaders, and repeating such a scenario is "not acceptable."
Reflecting on a week in which the Senate rejected three varying proposals for setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, McConnell insisted, "The Congress ought not to be dictating to the generals what the tactics are."
The Senate's second-highest ranking Republican later argued the effort in Iraq has resulted in "a miniscule number of casualties compared to any war in American history."
McConnell further criticized "armchair generals dictating every nuance of the policy in Iraq."
Durbin, who voted against going to war in Iraq nearly four years ago, countered, "This Prime Minister Maliki's plan, this national unity plan, calls for the beginning of withdrawal of American troops with a timetable. That's a position now taken by the Iraqi government, by the Iraqi people, by the American people, and by the Democrats, 39 out of 45 in the United States Senate."
Durbin then chided, "The only ones who disagree, apparently, are the Republican senators."
Next week, the Senate takes up another controversial issue in the form of a flag burning amendment. The amendment is closer to passage than ever, with some estimating the margin between passage or rejection is a single vote. But on this issue, Durbin and McConnell found rare common ground.
"I think the first amendment has served us well for over 200 years, and I'll be opposing the amendment," said McConnell, making him one of only a handful of Republicans who will oppose the flag burning amendment in the Senate.
"It is within one vote of passage," Durbin said, "and I think that is unfortunate. We don't need to amend the Bill of Rights for the first time in our history. I think Thomas Jefferson did a pretty good job."
Also on the home front, Durbin pledged his support for his Democratic colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman, who faces a tough primary challenge in his bid for reelection in Connecticut.
Just six years ago, Lieberman was tapped by then-Vice President Al Gore to join the Democrat's presidential ticket. Now, Lieberman faces an intra-party challenge from Ned Lamont, an anti-war candidate who says Lieberman's positions have drifted too far right.
"I'm going to support Joe Lieberman and I hope that he wins for the Democratic Party," Durbin told Stephanopoulos, before continuing, "I'm going to support Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary."
But, the Illinois Democrat demurred when pressed by Stephanopoulos as to whether Durbin would support Lieberman if he loses the primary and begins an independent campaign for the Senate.
"I'm not going to accept your premise," Durbin said, insisting his statement of support in the primary is all he would say for now.
On the Republican side, Sen. Lincoln Chafee faces a similar challenge in Rhode Island. A Republican in an otherwise solidly Democratic state, Chafee is up for reelection and also enjoys the support of his party.
"I'll be supporting the Republican nominee and I expect it to be Sen. Chafee," McConnell said.
Chafee faces Cranston, R.I., Mayor Stephen Laffey in the primary and, even if Chafee succeeds, a tight race is expected in November. McConnell noted, however, that as opposed to Lieberman, Chafee voted against the Iraq war, which may curry some support within the state.
Of the Iraq war in general, McConnell noted that it was the "big issue in '02 and '04 and I, quite frankly, think it will be the big issue in '06 as well."
On the topic of politics much closer to home, McConnell, whose wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, once served as the Transportation Department's second in command, remained coy as to whether or not Chao may be up for the transportation secretary post now that the administration's lone Democrat, Secretary Norm Mineta, has announced his intention to resign in July.
"She's the secretary of Labor. She serves at the pleasure of the president, [and] I suspect it will be up to him," McConnell concluded with a laugh.