Crucial Week for Iraq Debate in Congress The Senate blocked an amendment to a defense policy bill that would have changed how leave time is handled for U.S. troops on Wednesday. Congress continues its debate about Iraq this week as support for the war crumbles among some in the Republican Party.
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Crucial Week for Iraq Debate in Congress

Hear NPR's David Welna

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos, sitting in for Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a chess grandmaster making a bold move into Russian politics. We talk with Garry Kasparov.

BRAND: But first, this is a crucial week for the war in Iraq. As support for the war crumbles in his own party, President Bush digs in his heels and urges patience from his critics. And an assessment on political progress in Iraq is due this weekend.

AMOS: The Senate has just voted against taking up the first major amendment on a big defense policy bill. Like several other pending amendments, this one has to do with changing a policy on U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. The blocked amendment is sponsored by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel.

We turn now to NPR's David Welna, who's with us from Capitol Hill. David, can you unravel what that vote was about?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Deborah, this vote was 56-to-41, but you need 60 votes when something is being blocked to get past it. That means Democrats who control the chamber have fallen four votes short of what they need to proceed with amendments on this bill. And that is very significant, because it means that the White House has been successful in a very aggressive lobbying campaign to hold the line on staying with the president, at least until September, on Iraq policy.

NSA Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was up here at the Capitol through the morning, meeting with senators, urging them to stick with the president. Seven Republicans voted to move ahead on this amendment, but that was not enough to get Democrats over the line. And I think that's probably going to happen with many other amendments as well.

AMOS: But at the end of the day, what were Senator Webb and Chuck Hagel trying to accomplish with the amendment?

WELNA: Well, they were trying to - the amendment on the face says that soldiers deployed to Iraq will be able to stay back home for as long as they've been deployed to Iraq. Right now, it's 15 months of deployment and 12 months of rest. And what it really means is that if that were enacted, it would make a short supply of troops for replenishment in Iraq even shorter. And it would further limit the options of President Bush there. It is seen by Republicans as a roundabout way of reigning in the president on Iraq.

AMOS: But at the end of the day the vote itself was more significant than what the vote was about.

WELNA: Yes. I think that it showed that the White House is successful in making its argument that we just have to give the troop surge some time. Let's not pass judgment. Let's not change policy yet. They say that when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker come here in mid-September for a congressionally mandated report on Iraq, that's when senators should be passing judgment on whether the policy should be changed or not. But let's wait until then.

AMOS: We're getting pretty close to the summer recess. Is this standoff going to overshadow all other business in Congress until August?

WELNA: You know, I think it probably will just because Iraq is such a huge issue for people across the country. And it certainly is here in Congress. I think there are going to be other bills coming up with which they can also try to amend policy. But many people didn't expect this kind of a debate to be really catching fire until September. The fact that it has in July I think underscores what a huge issue this is and how difficult it is to work it out.

AMOS: NPR's David Welna from Capitol Hill. Thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Deborah.

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