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In Congress, a more measured approach against U.S. Iraq policy
San Francisco Chronicle


January 22, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Democrats call President Bush a liar, incompetent and even a rogue commander. They warn that the war in Iraq is immoral, dangerously counterproductive and among the worst foreign-policy blunders in history.

Yet as leaders in Congress struggle to find a way to end the war, they remain reluctant to force Bush's hand by cutting off funds, capping troop levels or requiring explicit congressional approval for an escalation of troops.




At least five bills were introduced last week that would either restrict Bush's ability to add troops or set a deadline for their withdrawal. No hearings or votes have been scheduled on the legislation.

For now, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are committed to building support for a nonbinding resolution condemning the White House's latest war plan in hopes that a broad and bipartisan show of opposition will make it politically untenable for Bush to proceed.

The more measured approach does not seem to match the increasingly hostile rhetoric coming from lawmakers of both parties, and it is not likely to satisfy many anti-war critics who believe the newly elected Congress has a mandate to bring the troops home. An anti-war march billed as the biggest since the war began is planned for Saturday in Washington.

Yet it reflects the enormous range of views in the Capitol over the next step in Iraq, and Congress' caution in challenging the commander in chief's conduct of war, even as Bush seems increasingly isolated from public, congressional or military opinion.

As the president delivers his first State of the Union address before a Democratic Congress on Tuesday, lawmakers are intent on screaming their opposition to the war without taking ownership of a policy with no good options and potentially devastating political consequences.

The center of congressional sentiment has shifted decidedly against the president as the public turns increasingly against the war. Yet even with their new majority, Democrats cannot count on passing measures that legislate a new direction in Iraq.

The prospect of passing measures prohibiting Bush from sending the 21,500 new troops he proposed Jan. 10 appears strongest in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has voiced her unequivocal opposition and dozens of Democrats who supported the war when it began - as well as a handful of Republicans - have become vocal critics. But the prospects are much foggier in the Senate, where fewer Democrats in a one-seat majority are as willing to confront the president and where it would take 60 votes to overcome a near-certain filibuster.

Instead, the Senate will take up a nonbinding resolution this week that states "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq."

With Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an independent Democrat, having spoken out in support of Bush's plan (and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., in the hospital), it will take 11 Republican senators to support the resolution and overcome a filibuster, a sizable number that many supporters nonetheless believe is within their grasp.

"With that vote, our hope, really our prayer, is that the president will finally listen, listen to the generals, listen to the Iraq Study Group, listen to the American people and listen to a bipartisan Congress," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

Pelosi said House Democrats will support the resolution, which if it passes the Senate is expected to come before the House as early as the last week of January.

"We do not support the escalation of the war. We do not think it is in our national interest. We will engage the public in that debate," Pelosi said.

A nonbinding resolution does not go nearly far enough for some anti-war lawmakers.

"The advantage is if you get eight or 10 Republicans, a majority of the U.S. Senate repudiates Bush, and that sends a powerful national message," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who introduced legislation to prohibit the troop increase.

The flip side, Kennedy said, is you allow members to voice their opposition to the war without taking a consequential stand.

California Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee - co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - introduced a bill last week with 14 co-sponsors that would demand the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and military contractors from Iraq within six months.

Their bill also would prohibit funding for any more troops, ban permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and rescind the 2002 congressional authorization for Bush to use force in Iraq.

Woolsey described the Senate resolution as "a first step. But while we're doing that, our troops are dying. We need to go beyond talking."

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