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The Iraq Vote and 'Expectations'

Some of you are already asking: How can the GOP consider this vote on Iraq a moral victory? Here is the answer.

The fact that the U.S. House passed a measure that strongly disagrees with President Bush is, of course, NOT a victory for the president's party. As The Washington Post reported today, Democrats in Congress are increasingly willing to use their authority to challenge Bush -- and today's vote could be the beginning of a process aimed at drastically curtailing his ability to continue the war.

On the other hand House Republicans breathed a big sigh of relief when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) banged the gavel shut on the disapproval resolution and just 17 of their GOP comrades had crossed the aisle to vote with the new speaker.

It was definitely not the worst-case scenario that Republicans had been expecting earlier this week. Plain and simple, Republicans believe that the number of their defectors could have been triple the final number of 17. Even as the the debate wore on and things improved somewhat for the GOP, they still felt the number could end up in the mid-30s, which would have been a humiliating repudiation to the commander-in-chief.

But, in the middle of the week, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) came forward and rolled out his proposals to limit President Bush's ability to send more troops to Iraq, a plan that will be formally released next month when Bush sends a supplemental spending request to Capitol Hill for more funding for the Iraq war.

Republicans pounced on Murtha -- already a controversial figure in some circles as one of the leading anti-war Democrats -- and used him as the face of the Democratic effort to eventually cut funding for Iraq mission.

"I think Murtha absolutely exposed them for what they are," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy whip for Republicans, who helped count noses on this vote.

Some details of Murtha's plan had been out prior to this week, and more was revealed Tuesday night. There would be no actual cuts for troops already deployed. Instead the focus would be to raise requirement levels for troops not yet there, choking off Bush's ability to send more soldiers into the field. Republican leaders used the unpopularity of Murtha's plan within their caucus to rally their members for today's vote. In the end the GOP leaders felt they had done better than expected.

Democrats rejected that idea completely. Pelosi said afterward she was only counting on the dozen or so GOP lawmakers who had said on the floor they were opposing the president on this vote, so in reality the Democrats had "exceeded expectations."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), whose campaign tactics seized on Iraq as a campaign issue and helped propel Democrats to the majority, said: "Until this time, the Congress has been a rubber stamp for the president's policy in Iraq. ...This is the first time you've had a break from the blind support ... That's what is significant, not [GOP] expectations."

Now, however, the political fallout will be interesting to watch. Several Republicans who barely survived the Democratic wave ended up supporting Bush on this vote: Reps. Chris Shays (Conn.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Heather Wilson (N.M.), and Jon Porter (Nev.).

Each of those Republicans won by a percentage point or two last fall, and Democrats will spend the next few weeks trying to "educate" these members' constituents about this vote, according to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

"They're going to have to answer to their constituents," Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Capitol Briefing. "Clearly, they missed a big part of the message of the last election."

Be sure to check back at the blog tomorrow for a roundup of the House debate, with some final color and by-the-numbers, as well as new posts on the Senate vote to try to start debate on the House resolution.

By Paul Kane  |  February 16, 2007; 7:42 PM ET
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