Anti-Buildup Measure to Have Bipartisan Stamp
New York Times | January 17, 2007
CARL HULSE and JIM RUTENBERG
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 — Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, an outspoken Republican critic of the administration’s Iraq policy, will join two leading Democrats in introducing a resolution opposing President Bush’s buildup of troops in Iraq, putting a bipartisan stamp on the looming Congressional showdown over the war.
Lawmakers and aides said Mr. Hagel had been consulting for the past few days with the two Democrats, Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to develop the wording of the resolution, which could be introduced as early as Wednesday.
“Senator Levin, Senator Biden and I have been working together on it and we are pretty close,” Mr. Hagel, a potential Republican presidential candidate, said Tuesday night as he left the Senate.
Mr. Hagel said the intent of the resolution was not to “bash the president” or to call for the immediate withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq, but a responsible way for senators to register their opinion on the increase of more than 20,000 additional troops announced by Mr. Bush last week.
While Senate opponents of the buildup were preparing to move forward, Senate Republicans backing the president were trying to map their own strategy, considering proposals that could appeal to Republicans frustrated with events in Iraq but keep them from supporting the most critical resolution.
“There will be alternatives,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the third-ranking Senate Republican.
At the White House, officials were continuing to discuss the new plan with members of Congress, with an emphasis on lining up Republicans behind Mr. Bush’s approach. “We knew this was not going to be an easy policy to explain or one that was going to be met with open arms,” said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
That official said that the message to Congressional Republicans was similar to the one the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, conveyed Tuesday at his press briefing: that approval of any resolution critical of Mr. Bush’s approach, even if nonbinding, would send a damaging message.
“In an age of instant and global communication, what message does it send to the people who are fighting democracy in Iraq?” asked Mr. Snow. “And, also, what message does it send to the troops?”
Mr. Bush on Tuesday stepped up his challenge to Congress to provide an alternative plan if it is going to criticize his.
“My only call to Congress is that if you’ve got a better way to succeed, step up and explain it,” he said in an interview on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” on PBS. “What’s your prescription for success? And I think they owe that explanation to the American people.”
In the House, the Democratic leadership said it would wait for the Senate to act before bringing its own resolution up for a vote. “We think it will be useful for the Senate to go first,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, who predicted a bipartisan vote in the House against the troop buildup.
Members of both parties in the Senate have said as many as a dozen Republicans may ultimately support a resolution against the president’s policy. Mr. Hagel’s participation could ease the concerns of other Republicans about breaking from the president.
But some Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, suggested that Republicans critical of the plan could be reluctant to cast such a clear vote in opposition to the president and might be willing to hold off until they hear from Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the newly selected ground commander in Iraq.
The level of Democratic support for a resolution is not certain, though the overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to the buildup.
“If they have the language right, I will be right there,” said Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has promised to raise procedural arguments against any proposal he sees as undermining the president.
Mr. Hagel was brutally critical of the president’s new strategy during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week and spent some time on the floor Tuesday night discussing the Iraq resolution privately with Mr. McConnell. But Mr. Hagel said he did not anticipate an angry reaction from his colleagues for joining with Democrats, since he had such a strong record of opposition on the issue.
White House officials have dismissed Mr. Hagel as an established critic of the war who is now seeking to stake out antiwar ground in the nascent Republican primary fight for president.
Still, the officials said in interviews that while they believed any substantial Republican support for the resolution would be a symbolic blow, they were far more concerned about threats from Congressional Democrats to take aim at spending on the president’s new plan. Officials say that they will rely upon Mr. McConnell to help head off any such move.
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