Fight over troops may shift from Senate

Times Staff Writers

House Democrats threatened Tuesday to take up a resolution next week to oppose President Bush’s controversial troop buildup in Iraq, cranking up the pressure on Republicans who have blocked a vote on the measure in the Senate.

The move would shift the focus of the debate over the 4-year-old war to the House, where Democrats have enough votes to pass a measure over Republican opposition. It also may further isolate the White House and its Senate allies, who are bucking public opinion that has turned sharply against the Iraq war and the president’s plans to send more troops.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 10, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraq war resolution: An article in Wednesday’s Section A about the Senate debate over Iraq said that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “offered no public explanation” for why Republicans decided to push a resolution opposing a cutoff in funding for troops instead of one supporting President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels. In fact, McConnell had said on the Senate floor that nothing was “more relevant” to the debate than the funding resolution.

When congressional Democrats began their campaign to challenge Bush over the war last month, House leaders decided to defer to the Senate to pass a resolution first.

But Monday, GOP senators derailed consideration of a nonbinding bipartisan resolution that criticizes the Bush plan, by preventing Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to bring up the measure.

On Tuesday, with few signs that the impasse would end soon in the Senate, House leaders said they would move first on the issue, which a majority of Americans say is the most pressing one facing the nation.


“We said for a long period of time we would follow the Senate, but we believe it is important for us to make ... our views known,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said at his weekly briefing with reporters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has told her colleagues that a resolution against the president’s call for 21,500 additional troops would be the first of several legislative actions intended to pressure Bush into starting to withdraw American combat forces from Iraq.

Despite the mounting pressure, Senate Republicans continued to insist Tuesday that they simply wanted a fair debate on the Senate floor.

As they did Monday, they complained that they were not being allowed to bring up two alternatives to the resolution crafted by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), which expresses disagreement with the president’s plan to send more troops into Baghdad to control the sharply escalating sectarian violence.

One of the other resolutions -- sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading supporter of a troop buildup -- backs the new strategy but also expresses the need for the Iraqi government to meet certain benchmarks to prove its commitment to help the American effort.

Another measure, offered by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), is a short resolution that opposes any limit on funds for American troops in the field.

But Senate Democrats hammered Republicans on Monday for ducking a formal debate on the war. And by Tuesday morning, some Republicans said they worried that the public would misunderstand their stance.

“It’s very unfortunate that we appear to be blocking,” McCain said. “I hope we can make the American people aware that we’re just asking for votes on our amendment, which is the way the Senate works.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would no longer insist that McCain’s measure come up for a vote. He offered no public explanation for why Republicans had chosen to champion Gregg’s resolution rather than McCain’s.

Other GOP lawmakers remained defiant, casting themselves as the most loyal defenders of U.S. troops, as they have in previous war debates.

“We’re not going to yield on this,” Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told reporters in the hallways outside the Senate chamber.

But the Democratic assault continued Tuesday as one senator after another came to the floor to accuse the GOP of seeking to avoid a debate on the president’s policy.

“It is absolutely outrageous. It is immoral,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said as she held up a photo of an Iraqi schoolgirl stepping over blood on the stairs of her school after a mortar attack., a leading grass-roots organization opposing the war, announced that it was running television ads targeting some Republican lawmakers, accusing them of not having “the courage to face a vote.”

“Our goal is to show a firestorm of outrage,” said Tom Matzzie, the group’s Washington director

House Democrats are also poised to ratchet up the pressure. House Republicans have started to attack the resolution.

“A meaningless, nonbinding resolution from Democrats may score a couple political points here at home, but it will not score any points with our troops,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

But without rules like those in the Senate that enable the minority to impede legislation, the House is a far less hospitable environment for the Republicans. Hoyer said Tuesday that Democrats would not allow any GOP amendments to the resolution criticizing the White House Iraq plan.

A Democratic leadership aide said Democrats could first offer a measure that would be a simple up-or-down vote on Bush’s buildup. And then they could bring up a nonbinding resolution like Warner’s, although they have not decided whether it will be identical, said the aide, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing internal party strategy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday dismissed the idea that the House could move ahead of the Senate on the issue.

“They’re not going to vote first, OK?” said Reid, who also said that he had stopped negotiating with Republican leaders.

But Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who worked with Warner to develop the resolution criticizing the Bush plan, was among several advocates of the measure who said a House vote could break the deadlock.

“It’s certainly not going to hurt,” he said.