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GOP Faces Tough Vote on Bush's War Plan

AP | January 16, 2007 
ANNE FLAHERTY

WASHINGTON - Bruised by the elections and divided on the Iraq war, Republicans will find themselves in a tough spot when Democrats force them to go on record for or against President Bush's troop strategy.

Democratic House and Senate leaders intend to hold votes to gauge GOP opposition to Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Senate leadership is expected by Thursday to propose a resolution denouncing the plan, with debate planned around the same time Bush delivers his State of the Union speech next Tuesday.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House will follow suit with its own resolution.

The resolutions would likely be a symbolic expression of Congress but would not affect the Pentagon's war budget or challenge the president's authority over U.S. forces. Such votes could be a shot across the bow to Bush, who said Jan. 10 that the extra troops are needed to protect U.S. interests in Iraq.

The resolutions also would help Democrats measure GOP support for more aggressive legislative tactics, such as cutting off funds for the war.

Such a vote puts many Republicans in an uncomfortable position. They will have to decide whether to stay loyal to an unpopular GOP president and risk angering voters disillusioned by the war or buck the party line.

Bush has been trying to sell his revised war plan to the public in a series of television interviews. He told PBS's Jim Lehrer in an interview broadcast Tuesday that keeping his old policies in place would lead to "a slow failure," but withdrawing from Iraq, as some Democrats and other critics suggest, would result in an "expedited failure."

"I am frustrated with the progress," Bush said. "A year ago, I felt pretty good about the situation. I felt like we were achieving our objective, which is a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself. No question, 2006 was a lousy year for Iraq."

In spite of Bush's efforts to gain support, several GOP members are offering only tepid endorsements of his plan, as well as a wait-and-see approach to the Democratic resolution.

Republican Rep. Chris Shays _ who scraped by in the November elections while his GOP Connecticut colleagues Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson lost their seats _ said his vote would depend on what Democrats come up with. He said he supports the troop push if there are guarantees offered by the Iraqis that they will reach a political settlement.

"In the end, it's a difficult thing to have to say to the American people we don't succeed unless the Iraqis do their part," Shays said.

Likewise, Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and John Sununu, R-N.H. _ both up for re-election in 2008 _ say they think Bush's plan might work, but only if the Iraqis come up with a way to share oil and reach other political milestones.

Lining up behind Bush in the Senate are Republican stalwarts and a few members who have long backed sending more troops to Iraq, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

At least seven Republican senators have said they flatly oppose the troop increase: Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon, George Voinovich of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Acknowledging their party is divided on Iraq, Republican leaders are trying to stave off a showdown in Congress by casting Democratic efforts as a political ploy to embarrass the president. On Tuesday, House leaders offered GOP members a second day to air their concerns about Bush's plan behind closed doors.

Republicans are also discussing alternative proposals, including one House resolution promising to keep funding for troops in combat.

The White House has moved to bolster Republican support, inviting GOP members to the White House to attend a Wednesday briefing on Iraq.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas _ a conservative who ultimately backs the president's plan as the best choice in tough circumstances _ said the vote puts many Republicans in a tight spot.

"I think everybody is," he said.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday tried to reach out to Republicans to endorse their proposals and negotiate precise language. With only a 51-49 margin and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., backing the president on the troop increase, Democrats have to walk a fine line to entice Republicans to vote for their resolution.

"I will have nothing to do with some political thing to embarrass the president," Voinovich said.

Democratic leaders are also under significant pressure by several members, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to go far enough to stop the president. Dodd said he plans to offer an amendment to the resolution that would cap troop levels at existing numbers, which is about 130,000.

House Democratic leaders say their approach will be simple: put Bush's plan in a nonbinding resolution and subject it to a vote. If it fails, the House will be on record as rejecting the additional troops.

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