Two leading Senate Democrats sought to build support Sunday for a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush’s war strategy in Iraq, cautioning that division over whether it goes far enough could spell defeat.
“The worst thing we can do is to vote on something critical of the current policy and lose it,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The public doesn’t support his policy, a majority of Congress doesn’t support his policy.”
“If we lose it, the president will use the defeat of a resolution as support of his public policy,” Levin said.
The new Democratic-led Congress heads this week toward its first vote on the war, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee beginning debate Wednesday on a resolution condemning Bush’s proposal to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and Anbar province. A vote could come as early as that same day.
The proposed nonbinding resolution, which is largely symbolic and would have no affect on money for troops, states that “it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq.”
It has generated some division among Democrats who want to go farther by cutting funding for new troops, moderates in both parties who want softer language and Republican leaders who have vowed to filibuster.
On Sunday, Levin and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who sponsored the resolution along with Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, called their proposal a first step that would send a “powerful message” that Bush must change course.
Other congressional steps, such as limiting federal appropriations for the war, could come later if Bush were to continue pushing forward with additional troops in defiance of the resolution, they said.
Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, downplayed the notion that support could splinter over how far lawmakers should go to restrain the president’s power to wage war. He said he expected the half-dozen competing proposals to oppose the war each would get an airing.
“I don’t think there’s any muddled message here,” Biden said. “They’ll all get a chance to be voted on, with some discussion.”
The proposals to limit the war vary.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., say they want to cut funding for new troops to prevent the deployments. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has a proposal that would cap troops at existing levels.
Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon said he was wary of the term “escalating” in the resolution and was working with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., on a “constructive, nonpartisan resolution that expresses the opposition of the Senate to the surge.”
Collins and Nelson, alongside Sen. John Warner, R-Va., were expected to announce the details Monday.
And the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats say they would introduce legislation this week calling for greater accountability on how Iraq war funds are spent.
Bush, meanwhile, was expected to address the Iraq war in his State of the Union address Tuesday and renew his calls to work together with Democrats on a bipartisan way forward.
Earlier that day, the Senate Armed Services Committee will also hear from Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, a former division commander in Iraq, who was tapped by Bush to replace Gen. George Casey as the top American commander in Iraq.
On Sunday, Biden said despite the competing proposals, there was overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress against the war. He said Vice President Dick Cheney was absolutely wrong in suggesting that a resolution against the war would “embolden our enemy.”
“Every single person out there that is of any consequence knows the vice president doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I can’t be more blunt than that,” Biden said. “He is yet to be right one single time on Iraq.”
Hagel suggested there may be more Republican support than is generally known for seeking a vote in Congress toward ending the war in Iraq.
“It is wrong to put American troops in the middle of a sectarian civil war,” he said. “Are we not to register our sense of where we are going in this country?”
“Let every member of the Senate express themselves,” he said, saying they owe that to the American public.
“We have anarchy in Iraq,” he said. “It’s getting worse.”
Biden and Levin spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” and Hagel was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.
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