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The Republican-led Senate sent a sharp message to President Bush today on Iraq. By a vote of 79-to-19, the Senate approved a non-binding amendment to a defense bill. It demands more complete reports on the war. It also calls for an explanation of the administration's strategy for success in that effort. The Democrats had called for a timetable for withdrawal, but that measure was rejected. Here's NPR's David Welna from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
A Senate that's grown increasingly assertive and critical regarding the Bush administration's defense policies today spelled out its own sense of what US policies should be on Iraq. Taking language originally drafted by Senate Democrats, Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner called for Iraqi security forces to take the lead next year in securing Iraq. The measure Warner sponsored pointedly calls for the creation of, quote, "the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia; Chair, Armed Services Committee): This amendment as drawn is very powerful, a very powerful statement by the Congress, hopefully, if the House adopts it, but certainly the Senate of the need to tell the Iraqi people that we have done our share, we're not going to leave them, but we expect from them equal, if not greater, support than they've given to this date.
WELNA: Warner's amendment calls for US forces to stay in Iraq no longer than required and for the Iraqi people to be advised of that. Majority Leader Bill Frist, who co-sponsored the provision, accused Democrats of actually calling for a set timetable for the withdrawal of American troops in a rival amendment.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee; Majority Leader): Democrats, we've heard again and again--they want an exit strategy, thinking cut-and-run, an exit strategy. What we're for is a victory strategy. And the president of the United States has laid it out clearly.
WELNA: But apparently not clearly enough for the Senate. The amendment tells the Bush administration it needs to explain to Congress and the American people what its strategy is for successfully completing the mission in Iraq. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin said Frist had distorted what was called for in the rival amendment that Levin sponsored.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): By repeating `cutting and running' enough, I guess the hope is the people who don't read this language will believe that that's the language in paragraph seven. It is not. What we propose in paragraph seven is that there be estimated dates, estimated dates. If the conditions on the ground are met as the Republican and Democratic amendment both propose occur, then give us estimated dates for a phased redeployment.
WELNA: And even though Levin's amendment was rejected, Democratic Leader Harry Reid cast the Senate's approval of the nearly identical Republican version as a watershed.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Minority Leader): Today you saw a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that staying the course is not the way to go.
WELNA: Some Republicans voted against the Iraq amendment backed by their party because they saw it, too, as a call for the withdrawal of US troops. That's why Arizona's John McCain opposed it, and he said he's very concerned about how the Iraq War is being viewed across the nation.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Well, we all know that the American people--that support is slipping. We all know that. The polls show that time after time. We've got to start doing better in Iraq.
WELNA: Asked about the Senate's Iraq amendment today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quoted Winston Churchill, who said, "The problem is not winning a war; it's persuading people to let him win a war."
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): While the American people understandably want to know when our forces can leave Iraq, I believe they do not want them to leave until our mission is accomplished and the Iraqis are able to sustain their fledgling democracy.
WELNA: Rumsfeld said it's fine if Congress wants the Pentagon to send more reports on how the war is going. He estimated lawmakers have already gotten 900-some reports in the past year and added sardonically that he hopes someone's reading them. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.