In Congress, Rejecting Iraq Policy Isn't Simple

Although most of the Senate has spoken in opposition to the president's troop build-up in Iraq, a formal resolution of disapproval may be difficult to achieve. Democratic leader Harry Reid may need 60 votes to cut off debate and bring a resolution to a vote, and Republican leaders may be able to prevent that.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

There may be growing consensus among political leaders in Iraq, but in this country, that's not the case. President Bush's plan to boost the number of troops in Iraq is causing divisions, even within his own party, on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, all sides are girding for a showdown over rival resolutions both for and against the troop build up. That showdown is likely to take place next week.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: Senate floor votes next week will show President Bush just how much support he has or does not have for his Iraq plan, and a key player in all this will be the new Senate Republican leader. Mitch McConnell says he welcomes that debate.

MITCH MCCONNELL: What I do think we will have is a series of votes on different proposals related to Iraq. Some will obviously be more favorable to the president than others. And as all measures in the Senate, any measure to clear the Senate will require 60 votes.

WELNA: That's because you need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, which McConnell says he's ready to use to keep resolutions he doesn't like from coming to a vote. Democrats have only 51 members in their caucus, so the resolution they passed in committee yesterday opposing the troop build up would need a number of Republican votes to pass the 60 vote threshold. And it got only one Republican's vote in committee.

Last night Virginia Republican John Warner introduced another, more mildly worded resolution that also opposes the troop build up, one he says many more Republicans are likely to vote for.

JOHN WARNER: To have a vote all on one side and a vote all on the other side, it will not help this very situation at this time. So one of the main goals - and we have achieved it - is bipartisanship truly.

WELNA: Today, Democrat Joe Biden, who co-sponsored the resolution passed in committee yesterday, said he'd like to meld his measure with Warner's.

JOE BIDEN: We're waiting to hear back whether John's prepared to sit down and meet. I think we could work it out.

WELNA: But Warner has not shown any inclination to change his resolution. Meanwhile, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions says there could be a resolution in support of President Bush's plan.

JEFF SESSIONS: There's been some effort to craft a resolution that those who support or acquiesce in the policy could support.

WELNA: And Arizona Republican John McCain, who also backs the president's plan, today proposed drawing up a resolution that would simply set benchmarks for the war in Iraq.

JOHN MCCAIN: If we had a resolution that set benchmarks, they'd have to be specific and they'd have to meet them. That's our goal, that we tell the American people and the Congress they have done this or they haven't done this.

WELNA: Democrat Biden smiled at McCain's proposal.

BIDEN: Isn't it kind of interesting John's talking about benchmarks? Welcome. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

WELNA: Biden noted that Democrats who proposed benchmarks only a year and a half ago were accused of cutting and running. But now it appears such a proposal might get support from both opponents and backers of the president's plan, and that may be the best outcome the White House could hope for.

David Welna, NPR News. The Capitol.

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