Democratic Divide

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2007 — -- The liberal lion of the U.S. Senate roared today.

"Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

The longtime opponent of the war in Iraq today introduced a bill that would require congressional approval for President Bush's anticipated move for a surge in troops to Iraq, and would withold all troops and dollars from being part of a surge if the measure were to fail.

But within Democratic circles, Kennedy is finding opposition, as some senior Democrats claim they have no constitutional place in waging the war.

"There's not much I can do about it; not much anybody can do about it," Sen Joe Biden, D-Del, told NBC on Sunday. "He's commander in chief. If he surges another 20, 30 (thousand) or whatever number he's going to, into Baghdad, it'll be a tragic mistake, in my view, but, as a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop.'"

Biden said it is "unconstitutional to say, 'we're going to tell you you can go, but we're going to micromanage the war.'"

Biden is working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on a symbolic "Sense of the Senate" resolution that would express disapproval of the president's proposed surge. Their hope is that if enough Republicans would support the measure the president would feel pressured to change course.

"If we have a bipartisan resolution, the president is going to have to take note of that," Reid told reporters today, saying the bill could be introduced next week.

But legal scholars say any Democratic deference to the president is based not on constitutionality and war powers but political considerations.

"The Constitution gives the Congress the power to say, 'No more war, we are going to stop funding this war,' or to put conditions on it as they see fit," Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal told ABC News. "The founders are absolutely clear: By giving Congress the power to declare war, and the power to fund war, they gave Congress, not the president, the power to get ourselves out of war."

As a policy matter, experts say, such a move might be a terrible idea. But as a legal question, experts say Congress has the right to end the war if it sees fits. And Kennedy, for one, sees fit.

"The president may deny the plain truth," Kennedy said. "But the truth speaks loudly and tragically. Congress must no longer follow him deeper into the quagmire in Iraq."

Historical Perspective

Kennedy, who argued that the November elections indicated that the American people want Congress to end the war, invoked the spectre of Vietnam several times in his speech.

Whether or not the comparison is fair, Congress tried to act several times during that conflict to end the war. In late summer 1970, with the war in Vietnam raging -- a war that Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, helped start, by the way -- Sens. George McGovern, D-SD, and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., proposed legislation that would have cut off all funding for the war. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment failed by a vote of 55-39 … but it had an effect.

"This cannot be ignored by the White House," Hatfield said at the time. "I am hopeful they might even modify their present standing policy as a result of this vote. If they would, that would of course achieve the very purpose that we set out to achieve."

You had a bipartisan but significant minority of senators who were willing to stand up and it made it harder for the White House to make it appear they were partisan attacks at the president, when you had a leading Republican whose name was on that amendement.

That is just what the White House and supporters of the surge, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., fear. Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves who just returned from his fifth trip to Iraq, says members of the House and Senate must stop trying to micromanage the war.

"One thing I know for sure, you'll never win any wars with 535 commanders in chief," Graham said Monday.

Sensing a groundswell of bipartisan opposition to the surge proposal, Graham then pleaded with his colleagues to reconsider their strategy.

"The stakes are extremely high," Graham said. "Please, Congress, understand what you are proposing. When you say 'cut off funding' or 'capping troops,' you are proposing defeat."

But on Capitol Hill, Democrats -- and now increasingly Republicans, too -- say they fear it is too late to prevent that defeat. In language and attitude this debate sometimes seems to have gone beyond policy disagreements.

Many Democrats sometimes act as if this is an intervention -- as if the president needs to be compelled to stop this war since, in their view, he has lost all sense and reason. Whether or not they're right, and however they decide to stop him, most Democrats no longer seem willing to listen to anything the president has to say about Iraq.

Z. Byron Wolf and Mike Tuggle contributed to this report.