Senate Republicans Change Tack on Iraq Debate In a departure, most Senate Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting to allow debate on a new resolution aimed at winding down U.S. participation in the Iraq war. The vote is a new stance for Senate Republicans, who have twice blocked resolutions on an Iraq withdrawal.
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Senate Republicans Change Tack on Iraq Debate

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Senate Republicans Change Tack on Iraq Debate

Senate Republicans Change Tack on Iraq Debate

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Senate Republicans have twice blocked Iraq resolutions opposed by the White House. Well, today, they have struck a new stance. Most Republicans joined Senate Democrats in voting to allow debate to begin on a new resolution, this one aimed at winding down U.S. participation in the Iraq war. But it's unlikely to have enough bipartisan support to pass.

More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Only nine conservative Republicans voted against taking up debate on this resolution drawn up only by Democrats, a big changed from earlier votes when only a handful of Republicans voted with Democrats to debate measures on Iraq.

Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed to the vote as evidence Republicans are feeling heat from constituents for standing in the way of debating Iraq. He asserted that this was made clear to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday in a closed door meeting with fellow Republicans.

HARRY REID: Senator McConnell found in that conference that even his Republican colleagues would not again stop debate as they were being asked to do. And that's why they have the sudden change of heart.

WELNA: But McConnell cited a different reason for the change of heart. He said that, unlike earlier resolutions offered by Democrats, this one is binding and it sets a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Republicans, McConnell said, welcome that debate.

MITCH MCCONNELL: This is the memo that our enemies have been waiting for. Osama Bin Laden and his followers have repeatedly said that the U.S. does not have the stomach for a long fight with the terrorists. Passage of the Reid joint resolution will be the first concrete sign since September the 11th, 2001, that he was right on target.

WELNA: What the resolution actually says is that 120 days from its enactment, a phased redeployment of U.S. combat troops should begin in Iraq. It states a goal of having most of those troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry stressed this is not a deadline.

JOHN KERRY: The date that is set here is a target date and is a date that leaves enormous discretion in the president's hands, according to the Constitution and which is appropriate, to be able to finish the job of training and to be able to get our troops home.

WELNA: For Arizona Republican and presidential hopeful John McCain, all that simply adds up to one word - retreat.

JOHN MCCAIN: The sponsors of this new resolution would attempt to legislate our troops' mission in midstream. It would not declare war nor end it, as the Constitution provides, but micromanage it.

WELNA: Which may not be such a bad thing, according to the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin.

DICK DURBIN: For those who argue that we are micromanaging the war, I guess my question to them: Isn't it time that somebody manage this war?

WELNA: But the bigger question looming in the debate that got underway today is whether Congress has the constitutional authority to dictate a timeline for troop withdrawal. The White House says Congress does not have such authority and has threatened to veto the resolution if it's passed. Democrats disagree. Delaware's Joseph Biden is a constitutional expert who is also running for the White House.

JOSEPH BIDEN: If we don't have a constitutional authority to set the mission for Iraq today, how did we have the constitutional authority to set the mission in 2002? Get real, folks. That is our constitutional responsibility.

The thing that makes this so unique is never before in history that I'm aware of have as many people in the United States Congress thought the president was incompetent enough that they had to change the mission.

WELNA: Some Republicans agreed that Americans have lost faith in the president's conduct of the war, including Tennessee's Lamar Alexander.

LAMAR ALEXANDER: I believe that it's time for President Bush to take the Iraq Study Group report down off the shelf and use it for something other than a bookend.

WELNA: But even Republicans who have been critical of the war said they'll stick with their party on this one. Sixty votes will likely be needed to pass the resolution. At this point, it's not clear it will even get 51, a simple majority.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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