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Senate Republicans Call for New Iraq Strategy

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Senate Republicans Call for New Iraq Strategy

Politics

Senate Republicans Call for New Iraq Strategy

Senate Republicans Call for New Iraq Strategy

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Prominent Republicans are calling for a new strategy in Iraq, as the Senate prepares to take up the annual defense policy bill — using it as a vehicle for renewed debate on the war.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna has been listening to all these. He joins us from the Capitol. And David, two Republican senators talking just now about going against the White House, what do you make of what they're saying?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Melissa, I think what you hear in the voices of these two Republican senators - both of whom face reelection bids next year, I should add - is an effort to distance themselves from President Bush on this widely unpopular war in Iraq, while at the same time, refusing to jump into the full fledged opposition to the war like some other Republicans have, most notably Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, who are also up for reelection next year.

But clearly, President Bush has lost the kind of lockstep support on Iraq from fellow Republicans in Congress that he used to be able to count on. So you're getting what Senator Alexander called a respectful nudge to the president - respectful, but still a nudge. And I think the more Republicans who defect on Iraq, the more a political cover they provide for other Republicans to do likewise. And the question is whether Republicans will stick with President Bush on Iraq until September when a report on progress in Iraq is due to Congress.

BLOCK: And we mentioned that next week, Iraq is going to be a topic of debate on the floor of the Senate. With a bill coming up, what are you looking for in that debate?

WELNA: Well, I think Democrats - what this bill - we're going to have something of a replay of what we saw on the last big Iraq spending bill that President Bush vetoed once because it had troop withdrawal timetables in it, and then he signed it after that got stripped out. Democrats will be offering similar amendments with troop withdrawal timelines and they're hoping that this time, more Republicans will vote it him, especially since some of these prominent GOP senators have called for a change of course in Iraq.

But I don't know if those senators' defiant words will necessarily translate into votes for most of these amendments, although I think the one adopting the Baker-Hamilton recommendations that's backed by Senator Alexander may get the 60 votes such measures need to get onto a bill. I'm not sure either that this would necessarily be seen as veto bait by the White House especially if a lot of Republicans voted for it. After all, that report does not call for troop withdrawals by early next year. It simply - since they could happen subject to developments on the ground.

BLOCK: Yeah. And what about the Democrats, and how far they might be able to really push the issue and make stronger language? Will they be able to hang together on that?

WELNA: Well, I think by and large, they will, although there is a significant division between those who want to use the power of the pursed forced troop withdrawals, and Majority Leader Harry Reid's sponsoring an amendment to this effect, and those who prefer to use this policy bill simply to state the policy will be that most troops withdrawn by next spring. That's an amendment that Carl Levin will be pushing as chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee. He doesn't like to use the idea of limiting funds for the troops because he thinks it goes against the will of the people.

But I think Democrats generally see this bill as a means of testing their Republican colleagues especially the more than 20 whose terms expire next year to see if they will really defect on Iraq.

BLOCK: Okay. David, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's NPR's David Welna at the Capital.

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