Week in Politics

This week the Senate continues its debate over military withdrawal from Iraq. We discuss what to expect to hear from the Senate floor.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

In a few minutes, the president of Eastern Michigan University is fired after what some are calling the cover-up of a student's murder.

ADAMS: But first, on NBC's Meet the Press on television yesterday, two U.S. senators crossed swords over the issue of the Iraq war. Here's the exchange. The senators are Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet the Press")

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): You know, my election (unintelligible) every Republican who's supporting this position (unintelligible)

Senator JAMES WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): You know, you said on the floor, let them win.

Sen. GRAHAM: This is not about my election, my friend...

Sen. WEBB: They won it, my friend.

Sen. GRAHAM: ...this is about the next generation.

Sen. WEBB: No, you said on the floor this week, let them win.

Sen. GRAHAM: The troops are not the problem. The troops can win. I...

Sen. WEBB: Thirty-five percent of the United States military agrees with the policy of this president.

Sen. GRAHAM: Well, why do they keep...

Sen. WEBB: By poll. By poll.

Sen. GRAHAM: ...re-enlisting? Why do they go back?

Sen. WEBB: Because they love their country.

Sen. GRAHAM: No, because...

Sen. WEBB: Because they love their country. They do not do it for political reasons, believe me. My family's been doing this since the Revolutionary War.

Sen. GRAHAM: Yeah. Well, so has my family.

Sen. WEBB: They do it for...

AMOS: Senator Webb offered an amendment last week to guarantee troops as much leave time at home as they've had in Iraq before redeployment. That got 56 votes in the Senate, a clear majority, but not the 60 votes needed. So where does the Iraq debate in the Senate go this week?

Joining us is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Deborah.

ADAMS: Hey, Ron. First of all, let's ask you this. What happened to Senator Webb's amendment when it was offered last week? What was that about?

ELVING: Noah, the senator, with his co-sponsor Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, wanted to at least guarantee that American troops who have been serving in Iraq when they're brought home are kept home for the period of time they were in Iraq last before they go back to Iraq. And in a sense this was a bit of a bait amendment so that people who wanted to express some dissatisfaction with the situation would be able to cast a vote that was seen as friendly to the troops. And it got 56 votes, a clear majority. Forty-one Republicans voted against it. But because it fell shy of that magic Senate number of 60, which is needed to proceed to an actual final vote to cut off debate - cloture we call it - it was considered a rejected amendment.

ADAMS: Defeat for Jim Webb, but not really a victory for the White House here.

ELVING: Indeed. You know, consider how unfriendly the atmosphere has become for this war and for the president right now - the winds are blowing against him. But also consider how difficult it is to overcome a president's power to make war once a war has began. Sixty votes for cloture, as I mentioned, but also 67 votes in the Senate to override a veto, and the president has already used his veto against timelines in Iraq. We can expect him to use his veto against anything that the Democrats manage to add to this defense policy bill they're debating this week that the president doesn't like.

AMOS: So Ron, is this really a debate about ending the war or is it about something else?

ELVING: It is a debate about ending the war and I think all the participants in it are in a deadly earnest about their positions on this war. At the same time, from a political standpoint, it's become an argument about time. How much time do we give this effort - the surge, if you want to call it that - in Iraq? How much time do we give General Petraeus to pursue this strategy that he is following? And how much time does the president have before he loses that core of support he needs in his own Republican Party, particularly in the Senate, and they melt away on him and he really does lose control of the war?

ADAMS: You know time is critical. Frank Rich in the New York Times wrote yesterday the Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. What sort of amendments are we looking at in Washington this week that might help that?

ELVING: We're going to see the introduction today of an amendment from John Warner and Richard Lugar, and it matters less for what it says than for who they are. It says that the president needs to have a new plan by October and be able to execute it by the end of this year - a new plan in Iraq, whatever it may be.

But what's important here is that John Warner is the former and longtime senator and Service Committee chairman when the Republicans were in charge. Richard Lugar was running the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They are seen as the old gray beards, the wise heads.

AMOS: Is this the same as the proposal to adopt the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommendation?

ELVING: No. That is - good point, Deborah, because that is a separate consideration and a couple of other senators are offering the Iraq Study Group recommendations in full, in total as an amendment. And that - while it's not all that popular with either side - Democrats or Republicans - may be the protest vehicle that can carry the most passengers in the end. So watch for that one. If it does come to the floor, that one could pass.

AMOS: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you both.

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