From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
Senate Republicans have indefinitely stalled debate on the non-binding resolution opposing a US troop increase in Iraq, putting them at risk of appearing to favor procedure over policy on the public's top concern. Senate GOP leaders say they're concerned about fairness; Democrats are charging obstructionism. Of course, since the resolution is non-binding, some argue that this is all really a matter of procedure versus policy. Regardless, the party-line votes by John Warner, the lead sponsor of the resolution, and Chuck Hagel, the most vocal Republican opponent of a troop increase, put them in the position of having to explain why they were for the resolution before they voted against it.
It's now unclear when or if votes on the resolution will occur, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. Tomorrow, the Senate is expected to shift its focus to a must-pass government funding bill that expires next week.
Republicans blocked debate after Senate leaders Harry Reid (D) and Mitch McConnell (R) failed to agree over how many resolutions would be voted on, and how many votes would be needed for each measure to be considered passed. As we wrote here yesterday, in addition to Warner's resolution "disagreeing" with the Bush plan, McConnell wants votes on two other, White House-friendly, non-binding resolutions requiring 60 votes for passage: a measure offered by Sens. John McCain (R), Lindsey Graham (R), and Joe Lieberman (I) that supports Bush's new strategy and requires benchmarks for the Iraqi government; and a resolution sponsored by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg asserting that Congress will not eliminate or reduce troop funding.
McConnell suggested to reporters yesterday that if that there's going to be vote showing division within Republican ranks (as Warner's resolution objecting to the surge is expected to demonstrate), then there should also be votes on resolutions showing divisions among Democrats (such as Gregg's resolution on cutting off funding), Strickland reports. There's "not nearly enough focus of the differences among Democrats," McConnell said.
Democrats contend that Republicans, at the White House's direction, are trying to avoid a vote that could well demonstrate a bipartisan majority opposing President Bush's plan. They asserted in their own press conference yesterday that the GOP move has not by any means ended the debate over a troop increase, and that they will return to the subject "again, and again, and again" until they get an up-or-down vote on Bush's plan, as Reid said. Today, Strickland reports, they'll spend the bulk of the morning responding on the Senate floor, accusing Republicans of obstructing the Senate from debating and voting on what Reid called "the most pressing issue facing America."
Last Friday, McConnell promised united Republican opposition to a debate over Warner's resolution -- including from Hagel and from Warner himself. Although these two have staunchly opposed a troop increase, like McConnell, they felt that Reid was not giving their caucus "fair treatment" by prohibiting a vote on the resolution saying that Congress would not eliminate or reduce troop funding, which could show divisions in Democratic ranks, Strickland says.
Yesterday, however, GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Norm Coleman jumped ship and joined the Democrats. Strickland points out that both face potentially tough re-election campaigns in 2008. McCain was out of town campaigning for president and missed the vote; an aide says he was monitoring the situation. Lieberman voted with Republicans.
Bush takes his budget show on the road today, visiting a tech company in the Virginia suburbs, while Cabinet secretaries begin the usual parade before congressional committees to make their cases for the plan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visits will be different from his predecessor's, though, because this budget is the first to include spending on Iraq. Although Bush's message of the day is about fiscal responsibility, he's visiting a state where he has lost a lot of political ground on Iraq recently. First Democrats ousted GOP Sen. George Allen and replaced him with former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D), whose critiques carry added weight because of his son's service in the war. And of course, Virginia is John Warner's home state.
And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, in trouble for having an affair with a top aide's wife, is using what cynics by now might start calling "the alcoholism excuse" to help explain his bad behavior (think Reps. Mark Foley, Bob Ney, and Patrick Kennedy). Newsom's office says his treatment "will not interfere with his day to day responsibilities."