From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
The political terrain on Iraq grows even less favorable for the White House and their congressional allies as intraparty opposition to a troop increase flares up again in the Senate and House Democrats weigh how to use the military spending request to curb Administration war policy. President Bush seeks a boost from a visit to the Department of Homeland Security, where he'll get a briefing on "priorities and efforts to guard against the threat of terrorism and keep America safe," per a White House e-mail.
House Democratic leaders say they'll use the power of purse to "change the direction of the war" and possibly close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, NBC's Mike Viqueira reports. At a press conference yesterday, Rep. John Murtha said his defense appropriations panel will pass a version of Bush's $100 billion war spending request for this year on March 15. Since March 15 comes well before May, when the last brigades will be deployed as part of the increase, Murtha says that would leave time for Congress to act. He also said he may use the war spending measure to close Guantanamo: "I would like to close it." Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called the forthcoming House Democratic resolution opposing a troop increase in Iraq "a first step."
And one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that "negotiations are over" regarding the non-binding resolution against Bush's troop increase, chief sponsor John Warner (R) breathed a little life back into them. In a speech yesterday, Warner argued that debate on his measure and others "urgently" deserves votes. Per NBC's Ken Strickland, Warner called the current stalemate "unacceptable" and advised Senate leaders that he will try to attach his resolution to bills coming before the Senate. Reading from a letter he sent to Senate leadership, Warner said he would also "explore all of our options under the Senate procedure and practices to ensure a full and open debate on the Senate floor." That, Strickland says, could be interpreted as a threat to dramatically slow down or tie up normal Senate procedures.
The letter appears to contradict actions that Warner took earlier this week when he voted along with most of his GOP colleagues to block the debate -- and vote -- from going forward. But in his letter, he said that vote "should not be interpreted as any lessening of our resolve to go forward."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Warner and his co-sponsors had their "chance to vote for their own resolution," but only Collins and Coleman chose to do so. Manley added, "Hopefully this letter signifies that the others have had a change of heart, and will be willing to vote for their own resolution in the future."
And is it a book party, or is it a fundraiser? Sen. Hillary Clinton hosts a party in Washington for author and former Democratic National Committee chair turned Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe. The party caps off a series of Clinton gatherings of big donors/bundlers, many of whom will be on hand tonight. It also comes on the heels of a recent comment on immigration which McAuliffe made to a radio station and with which many in his party probably don't agree: "We've got to shut these borders down," he said in response to a caller railing about the issue. "I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican, we all agree you've gotta shut the borders down. People who are coming into this nation taking our jobs." McAuliffe later issued a statement to a Latino blog that his comments don't reflect Clinton's positions and that he supports comprehensive immigration reform.
(We're reminded of another McAuliffe gaffe that landed a presidential contender in hot water. In 2004, he accused Bush of going AWOL during his time in the Air National Guard. While McAuliffe stood by his allegation, Sen. John Kerry (D) was quick to distance himself and asked the DNC and his supporters to stop making such accusations.)
McAuliffe's immigration comment probably won't even amount to a footnote in the history of the 2008 campaign. But it's another reminder that while Clinton owes much of her present frontrunner status to her associations, her husband and his friends like McAuliffe chief among them, that these very people have the potential to make this a bumpy ride for her.