Senate Democrats Persistent About Troop Withdrawal
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Defeat after defeat is not preventing Senate Democrats from trying again to change the war in Iraq. Yesterday, the Senate defeated a plan to withdraw U.S. troops by next summer. Today, the Senate takes another vote on a similar plan. Despite political pressure, Republicans have blocked every effort so far.
And NPR's Brian Naylor explains why.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Yesterday's amendment would have required most U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of next June with funding for the war cut off after that. It was defeated by a lopsided 70-to-28 vote. That followed the much narrower defeat the day before of a measure to require troops be given as much time at home as in Iraq. While backed by a majority of senators, it failed to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold after an intense administration lobbying campaign against it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the pressure was too much for Republicans.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): They have voted to put their arms around the Bush war and to make it also their war. Back home, they assert their independence, but in Washington they walk in lockstep with the president and continue to support his failed war.
NAYLOR: It seems politically counterintuitive for Republicans with 22 seats to defend in next year's election to consistently back an unpopular president's strategy for an unpopular war. But that's what's happened each time Democrats have offered a measure to change course. Partly, it's been loyalty to the president, then there is the testimony from General David Petraeus last week who said military progress was being made in Iraq.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says that had a big impact on his fellow Republicans.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): In July, people were running for the exit because they thought this thing was over and was a political hot potato. Come September, people are taking a second look - not only on the ground, but politically.
NAYLOR: Gordon Smith of Oregon has been one of the handful of Republicans who has voted with Democrats on some of their amendments. Smith is one of several GOP incumbents who could face a tough challenge next fall. He says he's a bit surprised his Republican colleagues have stuck together on the Iraq votes.
Senator GORDON SMITH (Republican, Oregon): Yeah, we all answer to the constituents of our own states. And I'm reflecting and voting my own feelings, and I believe the feelings of the people of Oregon. And each has to answer for him or herself.
NAYLOR: Smith says the ad last week by the anti-war group MoveOn.org, which called General Petraeus General Betray-us, made it easier for Republicans to stay together.
Sen. SMITH: I think MoveOn could not have been more counterproductive. And the combination of Petraeus versus MoveOn simply froze the Senate where it was. It's stupid on their part and disgraceful.
NAYLOR: The Senate voted yesterday overwhelmingly to condemn the MoveOn.org ad. Still, Smith says that in his words, the nervousness among many of his GOP colleagues about Iraq has not gone away. For their part, Democrats will continue to try to change the course of the war in the coming days, but concede they have little expectation of success.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.