WASHINGTON: US Senate Democrats, thwarted in their bid to force a debate on President George W. Bush’s planned US troop buildup in Iraq, were expected on Sunday to step up their pressure on the administration in order to force it to change its strategy in the war.
“The Republican leadership can run from this debate but as I’ve said before, they can’t hide. The Senate will keep fighting to force President Bush to change course in Iraq,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid at a news conference Saturday, minutes after Democrats failed to break a Senate deadlock blocking debate on Bush’s unpopular Iraq strategy.
Reid and other leading senators from both sides on the aisle were to hit the television talk show circuit Sunday to explain their positions in the standoff -- and their plans for the future.
Sixty votes were needed in the 100-seat Senate to move to a vote on a resolution condemning the administration’s plan to send 21,500 additional US combat troops to Iraq.
But only a total of 56 senators, including seven Republicans, voted to allow debate to start, four votes short of the minimum. Thirty-four senators voted against.
With the symbolic votes over in both chambers, the White House issued a statement calling for broad congressional support in upcoming spending bills for Iraq.
“This week’s voting gave the world a glimpse of democracy’s vigor. The next votes should provide unmistakable assurance of this nation’s resolve in achieving success, supporting the cause of democracy, and stopping terrorist forces in their ultimate aim of bringing their violence to our shores,” the White House statement read.
Reid vowed that Democrats would keep up the pressure, despite Saturday’s setback.
“The Senate is not done with this issue. It’s too important to be brushed aside,” he said.
Fellow Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer was even more pointed in his criticism.
“Just like in the days of Vietnam, the pressure will mount, the president will find he has no strategy, he will have to change his strategy, and the vast majority of troops will be taken out of harm’s way and come home,” he said on the floor of the Senate.
Democratic 2008 presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted in favor of holding the debate.
For their part, Republicans crowed at having blocked Democrats for the second time in less than two weeks from holding a vote condemning Bush’s plan to boost US troop strength.
“This ... was a vote on whether or not the Senate should debate ... funding for our troops in harm’s way,” triumphant Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote.
Senator James Inhofe, a staunch Bush supporter from Oklahoma, charged that Democrats in reality were pursuing a “slow bleed” process to gradually reduce funding for US troops in Iraq. He called it “a slap in the face to our soldiers.”
The vote came a day after the House of Representatives delivered Bush, the country’s commander-in-chief, a stinging rebuke, saying it “disapproves” of his plan to send more troops to Iraq.
The Democrats won control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years in November elections, in part on voter dismay with the Iraq war.
Reid said despite the setback, Saturday’s vote was an important milestone after years of a Republican-led Senate’s acquiescence with the administration’s Iraq policy.
He said Democrats would launch a new debate on Iraq when the Senate returns from a weeklong holiday break and takes up legislation on homeland security, but that there would be no more symbolic resolutions on the Iraq debate in the near future.
Antiwar group MoveOn.org said it would protest outside the in-state offices of some of the Republican senators, who helped block debate on the resolution.
“Skipping votes on Iraq is outrageous and intolerable,” said Tom Matzzie, a Washington political director for the group.
The non-binding resolution in the House of Representatives, which passed Friday by a 246-182 vote, voiced disapproval with Bush’s decision to send the additional troops to Iraq.
Polls show more than half of all Americans support a non-binding resolution repudiating the president’s troop “surge” proposal, while about three in five back proposals for withdrawing US troops from Iraq by the end of 2008.