Re-Elections Loom as Senators Weigh Iraq Shift Congressional Democrats are proposing various plans to change course in the Iraq war. But if they hope to pass anything, they'll need to bring along some Republicans. A handful of GOP senators — many of them facing tough re-election contests next year — are wavering.
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Re-Elections Loom as Senators Weigh Iraq Shift

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Re-Elections Loom as Senators Weigh Iraq Shift

Re-Elections Loom as Senators Weigh Iraq Shift

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is one of a handful of Republican senators who've broken with President Bush on Iraq. Senate Democrats want to force the president to change his policy but they haven't been able to come up with the 60 votes they need to end the GOP filibuster.

This coming week, Democrats will try to get a few more GOP senators to cross the isle. More from NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR: There's likely to be a half dozen or so different proposals offered in the Senate this week to change course in Iraq. Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate Chris Dodd's plan is to redirect money for the war unless most troops are brought home by the end of next year. It's not likely to draw much support from the GOP.

But others will be co-sponsored by Republicans, like a proposal to change the mission in Iraq offered by Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): I think we need to shift the mission right now. I don't see any point in waiting another six months to assess the situation in Iraq.

NAYLOR: The Nelson-Collins plan would draw troops out of combat and have them focus on counter terrorism and training Iraqi troops. Such a mission might require some 50,000 troops Collins says, less than a third of the number currently deployed. Collins, who spoke on a cell phone from her car between appearances in Maine, was not impressed by the limited drawdowns President Bush outlined last Thursday night.

Sen. COLLINS: What the president is proposing is to have approximately the same number of troops in Iraq 10 months from now as we had 10 months ago. And that does not feel like progress to me.

NAYLOR: Other Senate Republicans have similar frustrations with the size of the proposed reduction and pace of change in Iraq. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says the surge has not had the hopes for political impact.

Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): If we're back were we were a year ago, is it not reasonable to assume that we would see a level of progress not only on the military front but on the political front? And again, this is where we don't have the control that I think we would like to have.

NAYLOR: Murkowski is expected to support a measures sponsored by Virginia Democrat James Webb that would limit the amount of time U.S. troops could be deployed in Iraq requiring that they be given an equal amount of time home. Such a requirement would likely be a de facto limit on troop levels in Iraq.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell place down possible GOP defections in this week's debate.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Republican Minority Leader): I don't think many of my members are in favor of just running up a white flag and inviting the terrorist to come back here. And I think that's where the vast majority of the American people are.

NAYLOR: McConnell says next year's congressional elections, when Republicans will attempt to hold on to 22 Senate seats, will be about the future, not necessarily the war in Iraq. But that's little comfort to Republicans like Collins in Maine who's expected to face a tough reelection fight. Collins is optimistic voters in her states support her efforts to find a middle ground.

Sen. COLLINS: As I've talked about my plan for changing the mission, drawing down our troops in a substantial but responsible way, I found that the majority of people I am talking with appreciate that approach and understand the complexity of the war in Iraq.

NAYLOR: But the Republicans also know that many American's patience with the war has already ran out.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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