From NBC's Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
In recent days, the Iraq war has largely disappeared as an issue on the presidential campaign trail (where health care and Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has dominated the discussion) and in the buzz around Washington (which has focused mostly on the US attorneys controversy). But it remains Topic A on Capitol Hill. Late last week, the House narrowly passed an emergency spending bill that sets a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. And this week, the Senate is working on its own emergency spending/withdrawal measure.
NBC's Ken Strickland says that as early as today, Senate Republicans hope to hold a vote that would strip the withdrawal language from the bill. And recent history, he notes, suggests the GOP should be successful: Two weeks ago, Democrats couldn't muster 51 votes to pass identical language in their highly touted Iraq resolution. While the Senate rules usually require a filibuster-proof 60 votes for controversial bills to pass, both sides appear reluctant block any part of this bill -- which provides emergency money for troops in the field. So under that strategy, all that's needed is a simple majority. Yet even if the withdrawal language is removed, the Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the House bill, where it could be added back in before it goes to the president. Bush says he'll veto any bill with withdrawal dates included.
The New York Times adds that Senate Republicans "signaled that they would not use procedural measures to block the bill, but would instead let the White House kill it" -- via a veto -- "and then urge Democrats to pass a bill that provides funding for the war without setting any dates for troop withdrawals."
The Washington Post says the vote is expected to be close, "requiring the presence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had skipped several previous Iraq votes to attend presidential campaign events. McCain canceled a series of fundraisers and meetings in Florida to return to Washington, telling a conservative radio program that he wanted to 'beat back this recipe for defeat that the Democrats are trying to foist off on the American people.'" (The McCain campaign tells us, however, that he's not cancelling the fundraisers; they're still going on -- just without his participation.)
Overall, watching today's debate and vote will tell us which Republicans are more worried about re-election versus the White House's political peril on Iraq.