Amendment Would Require an Iraq Exit Strategy

As the Senate enters the second week of its latest debate on the Iraq war, Republican Sens. Richard Lugar and John Warner introduce an amendment that would require the Bush administration to find an exit strategy for Iraq and present its plan to Congress by mid-October.

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On Iraq, a showdown is looming in the Senate this week. Democrats, who control that chamber, planned to stay in session throughout the night tomorrow debating the issue. The unusual tactic springs from Republican threats to filibuster a measure on troop redeployments. It's unclear what will happen to these and other amendments on the war as the Senate debates the defense authorization bill.

NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was once an amateur boxer. Today, he's stepped in to the Senate chamber as if it were a boxing ring and began throwing verbal punches at President Bush's insistence that Congress do nothing about Iraq until a September 15th update.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): We don't have to mark time waiting for the president to wake up one morning with a change of heart, or his term to run out. We don't have to wait two more months for an arbitrary September deadline when it's so clear that course change is required and required now.

WELNA: Reid then asked that the Senate take up the so-called Levin-Reid amendment, which requires troop redeployments to start within 120 days and finish by May 1st next year. Amendment co-sponsor and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, acting as the presiding officer, asked if any Republicans had a problem with that.

Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): Is there objection?

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Yes, Mr. President. Unfortunately, under that circumstance…

Sen. REED: The objection is heard.

WELNA: Arizona Republican Jon Kyl said until Senate Democrats agreed to having a 60-vote threshold for the troop redeployment amendment to pass, Republicans would object. Sixty is the number of votes needed to break a promised filibuster, a threat to talk a bill to death that's rarely taken up by the bill's backers.

But this time, in a move sure to please an anti-war constituency, Majority Leader Reid said, fine, we'll stay here all day tomorrow and all night, too, to keep talking about the blocked troop redeployment amendment.

Sen. REID: We've talked a lot about filibusters, but, you know, people have gotten pretty lazy about filibusters around here. They just say, okay, you're going to filibuster? Okay, we'll back off that. That is the way it's going to be on Iraq, the most important issue facing the American people.

WELNA: Republicans, though, seemed unmoved by Reid's threat to keep them up throughout the night.

Here's Colorado's Wayne Allard.

Senator WAYNE ALLARD (Republican, Colorado): I will continue to vote against any legislation that sets arbitrary deadlines and thresholds in Iraq, and plead with my colleagues to do the same. Let's not stand here this week and prejudge which will come out of the September 15th report.

WELNA: And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of holding things up by not agreeing to his demand that there'd be 60 rather than 51 votes to pass the troop withdrawal amendment, which is co-sponsored by two Republicans.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): I would hope we could do this in an orderly way. We've been on this bill now for a week and a half. And we're clearly going to be on it through the end of this week, and it will be important - as we move toward the disposition of this measure -to have all senators who have important amendments, have an opportunity to be heard.

WELNA: Indeed, it's not clear what the fate will be of an amendment introduced over the weekend by two of the Senate's top Republicans on national security, Virginia's John Warner and Indiana's Richard Lugar. It calls on President Bush to come up with redeployment plans by mid-October and for him to request new authorization for the war in Iraq.

Lugar spoke yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican, Indiana): I'm hopeful that, in fact, most Democrats will support our amendment just as a matter of common sense.

WELNA: But on the same show, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley gave the Warner-Lugar proposal a thumb's down.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Adviser): They've done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about. But the time to begin that process is September. And the opening shot really ought to be to hear from the commanders on the ground who can make an assessment.

WELNA: Majority Leader Reid today was equally negative.

Sen. REID: Their amendment is reaching in the right direction, but of course, it gives the president unlimited leeway to doing things that he wants.

WELNA: It's not clear that the majority leader will allow a vote on the Warner-Lugar amendment, but Reid warned colleagues to be prepared for more all-nighters this week. A showdown vote on taking up the troop withdrawal amendment is expected on Wednesday.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Primer: Amendments Aimed at Iraq Policy Shift

Senate Democrats are using debate on the annual defense policy bill to push for policy changes in Iraq. Most notably, Democrats are calling for a timeline for bringing the troops home.

They're also testing Republican disenchantment with Iraq policy by offering a series of amendments to the $650 billion defense authorization bill that's being debated this week. A growing number of senior Republicans have distanced themselves from the White House and lessened their support for the war in Iraq. But it's not clear how far they are willing to go to oppose President Bush on this issue.

Two of those Republicans, Sens. John Warner and Richard Lugar, have offered their own amendment. The Warner-Lugar proposal would require President Bush to present a plan by mid-October that redefines the military mission in Iraq. It calls for limiting the use of U.S. forces to training the Iraqi military, guarding the border, fighting terrorists and protecting U.S. interests. And it recommends that the new plan be ready for implementation by the end of the year. The White House has already rejected the proposal.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Congress needs to wait for military commanders in Iraq to complete their progress report in September, before calling for changes in U.S. strategy.

Many of the proposals are still works in progress. Here are five other key amendments to watch:

Leave Time: An amendment sponsored by Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) would mandate that active-duty soldiers spend as much time on leave at home as they spent on their previous tour in Iraq. The president could waive the provision during a national security emergency. Republicans blocked this amendment July 11 when a move to limit debate was defeated, 56-41. Sixty votes were required.

Troop Withdrawal by April 30: Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) have offered an amendment that would begin a troop pullout within 120 days of enactment, with a deadline for withdrawing most troops by April 30, 2008. A residual force of undefined size would remain for counterterrorism efforts, U.S. force protection and the training of Iraqi security forces. This is similar to a proposal passed last spring as part of a spending measure that President Bush vetoed. It is not expected to pass because of Republican opposition to setting a firm withdrawal date.

Troop Withdrawal by March 31: An amendment from Russell Feingold (D-WI), backed by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, would begin withdrawals within 120 days. It sets March 31, 2008, as a firm date for troop withdrawal — and for cutting off most funding. Troops would be left in Iraq only for specific missions, such as combating terrorism, protecting the border and training Iraqi security forces. The amendment is not expected to pass.

Revoking War Authorization: An amendment by Robert Byrd (D-WV) and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D-NY) would sunset the war authorization that Congress approved in 2002 on its fifth anniversary (Oct. 11, 2007). It would also force President Bush to seek new authorization, while spelling out U.S. strategy and goals in Iraq. This amendment has not attracted Republican support and is expected to be rejected.

Iraq Study Group: An amendment by Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would implement more than six dozen recommendations in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report. The report suggests March 2008 as a "goal" for withdrawing troops from Iraq. It also calls for diplomatic efforts to end the war. This amendment has bipartisan support from moderates on both sides and is expected to pass — if it ever comes up.

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