A Senate committee approved a toughly worded resolution Wednesday to oppose a troop buildup in Iraq, moving Congress a step closer to an official repudiation of President Bush’s leadership of the increasingly violent 4-year-old war.
In a sign of how partisan the debate over Iraq remains, only one Republican joined Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support the nonbinding resolution, which bluntly declares: “It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.”
But the vote -- which came the day after Bush asked Congress to give his proposal “a chance to work” -- followed hours of criticism of the new Iraq policy by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Not a single committee member endorsed the White House plan.
With that resolution headed to the Senate floor for debate as soon as next week, momentum continued to build Wednesday behind a second, more bipartisan resolution opposing the Bush Iraq plan.
Both resolutions are nonbinding and stop well short of the limits Congress has put on spending to scale back other unpopular military operations, including the Vietnam War. But they mark a sharp departure from the largely deferential posture the Republican-led Congress assumed after Bush sought and won approval for the Iraq invasion in 2002.
And as support grows for some legislative action, it appears increasingly likely that Bush could face the equivalent of a no-confidence vote.
Asked in a CNN interview how the administration would react if the Senate passed a resolution against the president’s Iraq plan, Vice President Dick Cheney said: “It won’t stop us, and it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.”
The foreign relations panel’s resolution, passed 12 to 9, is sponsored by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
The second resolution -- championed by veteran Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia -- has attracted four GOP co-sponsors and six Democratic. And several Republican senators who voted against Biden’s resolution in committee expressed interest in Warner’s measure. One of Warner’s co-sponsors, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said Wednesday evening that the measure’s authors were talking with more lawmakers about joining on to the resolution.
Warner’s stature as a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a onetime Navy secretary has helped draw Republican support. His proposal also is not complicated by presidential politics. Both Biden and Hagel have expressed interest in running for the White House.
The Warner resolution “disagrees” with Bush’s plan to send 17,500 additional troops to Baghdad, citing rising sectarian violence in the capital and a poor record of Iraqi cooperation with U.S. initiatives.
But it also includes deferential language recognizing the president’s authority as commander in chief and accepts the possibility that the 4,000 additional troops Bush wants in Al Anbar province may be needed.
The Biden measure is broadly similar, although it does not distinguish between Baghdad and Al Anbar, a hotbed of the Sunni Arab insurgency.
Nearly all the Democrats on the foreign relations committee, including Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, said they hoped the resolution would be only the first step in a congressional drive to start bringing the war to an end.
“Kids are dying over there,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), another presidential hopeful and vocal war opponent. “We need to do something meaningful.”
Dodd offered two amendments to Biden’s resolution that would have capped the number of troops in Iraq and forced the president to seek congressional authorization for further increases. The amendments failed.
But Biden, the committee chairman, assured senators that he was also interested in legislation to force the president to start withdrawing troops. “We should be drawing down forces,” Biden said. “We need a radical change in course.”
Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and longtime Iraq war opponent, chided his Republican colleagues for their hesitation.
“The Congress has stood in the shadows ... for four years,” he said. “I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? ... If you want a safe job, go sell shoes.”
The harangue did not move any of the nine other GOP lawmakers on the committee, many of whom are uncomfortable with the tone of the Democratic opposition to Bush’s Iraq plans.
Nor were any minds changed by the removal of the word “escalating” from the resolution, a nod to Republicans who consider the term a politically loaded reference to Vietnam.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a widely respected moderate who previously led the committee, said he did not believe any resolution opposing the president’s policy would be productive.
“It is the wrong tool for this stage in the Iraq debate,” Lugar said, warning that it would be divisive and unlikely to affect the president’s thinking.
Other Republican senators expressed concern that it might send the wrong message to American troops and that it failed to spell out any alternative to Bush’s plan.
“We all have a right to be against a plan. I also think we all have a responsibility to be for a plan. This resolution is clearly not a plan,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has called for specific benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq.
The Republican opposition to the resolution did not stop GOP lawmakers from criticizing Bush’s plans, however.
“I’m more skeptical about what we’re doing than I ever have been before,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who noted that the more he had learned from Bush administration officials about the buildup, the more concerned he had become.
After Wednesday’s committee vote, aides to Sens. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), both of whom voted against the Biden resolution, said the lawmakers were more comfortable with the language in the Warner resolution.
Biden and his co-sponsors, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have expressed a desire to work with Warner on a compromise that could also go to the Senate floor next week.
Hagel, who has had several lengthy discussions with Warner, said he anticipated more.
“We’ll be doing a lot of talking,” he said.