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The Iraq all nighter: 3 Up, 3 Down

With the trading deadline approaching in Major League Baseball - and training camps opening for the National Football League - sports metaphors abound on the state of Congress. If you could be general manager of your political party, who would you trade, who would you cut, which overpaid underperformer would be unloaded in exchange for future prospects?

Since Capitol Briefing has no future as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies or the Philadelphia Eagles, this blog is as close as it gets. Here's a look at the state of play in the Senate from this past week's debate on the Iraq war: three up, three down, a look at three people whose stars were rising and three whose stars were, well, not so bright at week's end. And remember, Capitol Briefing loves contrarianism, so feel free to fight with these picks all you want in the comments section below.


• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid continues to be one of the more confounding congressional leaders. It's easy to paint a negative picture of Reid for again failing to get something accomplished this week on the Iraq war. As Shailagh Murray and Capitol Briefing wrote in today's paper, Reid even refused to allow alternative amendments when he pulled the underlying Pentagon authorization bill from the floor, a move that made a compromise solution impossible to reach for the time being.

But Reid's gambit of forcing the all-night debate Tuesday/Wednesday drew an enormous amount of media attention to the issue - and most importantly heightened the awareness of anti-war activists to the hurdles Democrats face in getting serious legislation approved to end the war. Those activists had soured on congressional Democrats earlier in the year when they caved to President Bush on the $100 billion spending plan on Iraq after his veto. "They had assumed incorrectly a majority vote could win," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Reid's lieutenant. This week those activists received a senatorial education in how winning narrow majorities doesn't mean instant results. If Reid succeeded in teaching his liberal base that the enemy is the Republican minority, not the Democrats, he will have won big this week regardless of Wednesday's vote.

• Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). As Reid needed to shore up his outside political support, McConnell needed to steady himself among his internal political allies. The immigration debate in late June ended in a debacle for McConnell, as he ran from the bill he once supported and Bush was dealt his most stinging domestic policy defeat. Among Senate Republicans there was a palpable sense of unease with McConnell's leadership (or lack thereof) on immigration. This week, he filled the leadership void he created. He engaged in the Iraq debate, barked out orders to his troops to be on guard all night long, held his conference mostly together on the Levin-Reed vote and even offered up red meat amendments on terrorism when the Senate took up an education bill. Whether it's the right approach heading into 2008 is up for debate, but McConnell's leadership approach this week is what his colleagues want more of.

• Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.): Few people might have realized this, but Levin-Reed -- setting a timetable for withdrawing troops -- was essentially the same amendment Kerry offered in June 2006. Back then, it got 13 votes. Now, 53. Of course, the 2004 Democratic nominee wasn't given his due, relegated to speaking shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday.


• Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Many observers credit his principled stands. However, while his presidential campaign was always probably more uphill than the inside-the-Beltway media believed, those stands now look like political self immolation. Supporting an immigration bill that the conservative base called "amnesty" was pouring gasoline all over himself, while unyielding war support might well be the figurative lighting of the match. Capitol Briefing has long believed the Iraq war is not as popular among conservatives as the polls show. With the war support number almost always mirroring Bush's own approval rating, Capitol Briefing believes that conservatives tell pollsters they support the war only out of deference to Bush. Deep down, so the theory goes, there is little conservative appetite for continuing the war beyond 2008. McCain - the most identified public figure with this war not named Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice or Cheney - has gotten no traction among conservatives for his steadfast support of the war. If he hasn't gotten it yet, he's not likely ever going to get that bump.

• Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Yes, he finally showed up in the Capitol eight days after admitting his "very serious sin" with an escort service. And yes, he made every vote in the Iraq debate, even the 5 a.m. procedural quorum call. So what. He still won't explain to his voters whether or not he broke the law with prostitutes while he represented them in the House.

• General David Patraeus. This guy was unanimously confirmed by the Senate early this year to run the Iraq war with the understanding that he would have till Sept. 15 to show progress on the ground. Now, a full majority of the Senate has voted to short-circuit his mission two months before the mid-September report is delivered, while another dozen Republicans have publicly called for an altered mission. In a briefing to senators on Thursday, Patraues, via satellite, asked for more time, until November. McConnell responded gently today saying, effectively, no thanks. "I think September is the critical month. People on both sides expect policy post-September to be based in large measure on what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to say," McConnell said.

By Paul Kane  |  July 20, 2007; 5:20 PM ET
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Comments on this article:
It doesn't matter whether or not Kerry gets kudos for doing his job. His job is to do his job. It's the least he can do, after running so wimpy a presidential campaign.
McCain's stands were never principled. He simply sucked the wrong a**es.
Patraeus is a military man. As such, he is prohibited by the UCMJ from disparaging the commander in chief (Dubya). That makes every public statement he makes an echo of George's (read Cheney's) policies. He cannot be considered an independent thinker.

Posted by: Joe Blow | July 21, 2007 7:39 AM | Report abuse

General Patraues and Ambassador Crockers report in Sept is "not" going to hold any suprises for anyone. Mixed results, the administration will cherry pick the report to stress the successes and downplay any negatives while asking for more time translated to mean until the end of Bush's term so he can hand it off while saying "he" didn't lose it. You can bet though that the report is vetted in the White House before release. All Generals are optimistic by nature and would never admit defeat or say they can't get the job done, no matter the personal cost. In that way, they are political. A much better report would be by the Captains and below who would reflect "real" world and not the party line.

Posted by: Jesse, From Virginia Beach | July 21, 2007 8:43 AM | Report abuse

There was another very important "up": Olympia Snow. While her appearance on the floor during the all-nighter was early in the morning, preventing many from listening to her, she delivered an analysis and rationale that is nothing short of "presidential". I do not often have an opportunity to listen to her speak, so was pleasantly surprised to listen to someone who should be contemplating a run for the presidency in '08, and who should be encouraged to consider that run by her colleagues, and by everyone who wants to bring competence back to the White House.

On the assumption that Snow does not have too many skeletons in her closets, and has reasonably mainstream views on a wide range of issues, she could easily go head to head with the Democratic front-runner, and then some.

Posted by: Maxbyte | July 21, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The Commander of Forces in Iraq is Gen David Petraeus not General David Patraeus. Please correct this as he is one of the finest General Officers and Soldiers I have ever served.

Posted by: Cameron M. Wesson 1SG USA (RET ) | July 21, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand how the Senate immigration debate in late June ended in a debacle for McConnell? Democratic candidates are apparently being told to stay away from the issue of legalization of illegal aliens - because it's politically unpopular. However thanks to Mitch McConnell almost all Senate Democrats are on record as favoring legalization! Then Clinton or Obama's vote for legalization can be used against them should they win the nomination. I would call that a very satisfactory result.

Posted by: Chris Baker | July 21, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The Levin-Reid-KERRY Amendment is a HUGE success for the work of Senator Kerry on this issue...which he has relentlessly done since he returned to the Senate after the 2004 election. He was also instrumental in getting both the House and Senate under Democratic control in anyone who follows these issues would know. Having a Democratic (and eventually a veto-proof) majority is necessary to change the direction of our country.

While I appreciate that people who voted AGAINST Kerry's 2006 Amendment (where he got 13 votes)...both Democrats and Republicans like Senator Olympia Snowe are finally coming around to doing what's right for our country and our troops in should be recognized that Senator Kerry has been there all along, even during the 2004 Election and before.

The media did him and American citizens a huge disservice by their biased coverage of his position (flip/flop versus nuance).

It seems to me some point (and I hope it is SOON) ...we need to start listening to, supporting and THANKING those leaders in Congress who take a position BECAUSE IT IS RIGHT, HONORABLE, AND WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN, rather than belatedly pumping up those that finally come around (often because they are up for re-election) like Senator Snowe.

Senator Kerry fought for this before and during the 2004 election. He continued to fight for this from the day he returned to the Senate. It is his leadership that will eventually get this legislation passed and begin the changes in Iraq that will bring our troops home.

It is time the country thanked him.

Posted by: YvonneCa | July 21, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Senator Kerry laid out a plain to begin withdrawing troops in 2005. Sadly, the media thought it was more fun to report the right wing's silly gotcha games than the important details of war policy.

Posted by: Sandy | July 21, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Id' sure like to see Snowe run for president, too. She could be tough and a uniter. To her credit she doesn't run about blathering to the press all the time. We need much more of her kind of thinking and debate -- reflective and restrained (without personal attacks). I'm tired of knowing too much about the candidates personal lives. The press is not focusing on governance and policy ideas backgrounds. Snowe has quietly done some very big things tucked into legislation to assist everyday people. We need to reframe politics away from war, war,war and saving money on the backs of everyday pepople to helping all people and thereby lifting up the whole country. She just might be the ticket to do it. It is time we looked toward entirely new candidates without so much media baggage.

Posted by: Susan S Williams | July 21, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for giving Senator Kerry his due. He definitely belongs in the UP category. He has relentlessly worked towards this goal, and getting 40 additional votes in one year speaks volumes. And his speeches are always worth listening too, even in the wee hours of the morning.

Posted by: Irina | July 21, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I think both of the party's leaders scored some points with their base after the all-nighter.

Posted by: publius | July 21, 2007 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I think a more appropriate way to assess what is really going on in Iraq is to ask those who are on the ground or who have been there. Don't simply limit it to Captains and above or officers and senior NCO's as these people are generally so far removed from the reality of what is actually happening they create their own vision and pick and choose facts to support that vision.

The whole situation is very bad. If we leave them, they will have a brutal civil war and thousands of soldier will have died for nothing. If we stay, money will have to keep being spent in order to support the war and the death toll will go up.

It would be nice if politicians simply let the military do its job and stopped undercutting them. History seems to recollect that's how we've lost every other major conflict since WWII.

Posted by: Nathan | July 21, 2007 7:44 PM | Report abuse

The report of General Petraeus on September 15th will please President Bush.
Petraeus is a direct subordinate of Bush - his Commander in Chief. The report will be just what the boss wants - you can depend on it. ..... "You're doing a great job, General."

Posted by: Jim | July 21, 2007 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Again, again, again: The Democrats do NOT need a veto-proof majority. They NEED ONLY A SIMPLE MAJORITY to refuse to pass "emergency" spending authorizations that don't include withdrawal timelines. Only when they're willing to separate the issues of Funding and Withdrawal do they need a supermajority. To allow that separation is to allow Bush to veto just the part he doesn't want -- that is, to give him what he *does* want.

Save Iraqis & soldiers: kill the "Democrats need a veto-proof majority" meme.

Posted by: Malcolm Calder | July 21, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Maxbyte. Senator Snowe's speech was a gem among forgettable partisan blusterings and if she was running for President I'd be sorely tempted to vote for her.

McCain was the worst with his constant declaration that the bill would tie our military's hands. What the hell does he think the Iraqi government has been doing, since the day of it's inception, by telling our commanders who they may and may not attack?

Posted by: effodee | July 21, 2007 10:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm not really a sports person, but try these stats: GEORGE W. BUSH, et al. 3632 (US, dead), 291 ("Coalition of the Willing", dead) 67,905-74,296 (Iraqis who did not attack or in any way have anything to do with attacking the US, dead), a total of 71,828-78219. AMERICAN PEOPLE, (Improved Security, Freedom, International Relationships and capturing Osama Bin Laden), 0.

Posted by: David Yates | July 21, 2007 10:30 PM | Report abuse

The fact that you lump General Petraeus in with beltway politicians displays your ignorance and illustrates one reason why liberals will never understand the importance of victory in Iraq. This isn't just a policy issue!

Posted by: John Joyce | July 22, 2007 12:02 AM | Report abuse

All substantive comments aside?- please learn to spell / edit (Patreaus? Patraues?) You'll need to tighten it up if you want to remain credible... A minor point with regards to the nature of the debate, I do recognize- but considering the low level of intelligence demonstrated by those whom you're arguing with / against (i.e., neocon, quasi-christian nationalistic 'armageddonists'), you should better defend yourself by eliminating mistakes like THAT

Posted by: Chris | July 22, 2007 12:14 AM | Report abuse

The transcript of Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) floor speech on the Levin-Reed amendment was published by the Post (link below). Her original idea, with Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), was that the surge forces would redeploy if the Iraqi government failed to meet certain benchmarks. That became current law.

The problem is the benchmarks don't really measure the problems. For example on July 16, the New York Times had an article titled "Mistrust as Iraqi Troops Encounter New U.S. Allies". That article is about how the US military is allied with a Sunni leader, Abu Azzam, who controls the area between Abu Ghraib and Fallujah.

However the Iraqi Army leaders don't want to allow Azzam to control that area, which creates clashes between the Iraqi Army and the US military - so far no bullets have been fired. However the American military leader for that area said he trusts the Sunni's more than the Iraqi Army: "I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers."

Also Azzam claims the Iraqi Army is infiltrated by Iranian sympathizers, while he said the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, the Islamic Army and Ansar al-Sunna are all watching to see how well he succeeds. In light of that Snowe and the Democrats droning on about "benchmarks" for the Iraqi parliament doesn't seem very relevant. Link to transcript of Snowe speech:

Link to New York Times article on the "real" problems:

Posted by: Chris Baker | July 22, 2007 12:44 AM | Report abuse

get out of Iraq ASAP

Posted by: clint marchbanks | July 22, 2007 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Chris Baker posts - "In light of that Snowe and the Democrats droning on about "benchmarks" for the Iraqi parliament doesn't seem very relevant. Link to transcript of Snowe speech...."

Droning on would be one way of looking at it and after staying up all night watching all the speeches I would tend to agree with you if they served no purpose. Perhaps droning on is all they can do without coming right out and saying our military is capable and our dream of a democratic Iraq is possible but with the current Maliki administration in place our goals are impossible to achieve?

In any event, I am certainly looking forward to General Petraeus's report come September. Perhaps with the meddling Iraqi government off on vacation for the month of August he'll be able to accomplish what has so far eluded his predecessors.

And I do wish him well. I know our boys can succeed if only given the chance to operate without restriction.

Posted by: effodee | July 22, 2007 3:05 AM | Report abuse

"The fact that you lump General Petraeus in with beltway politicians displays your ignorance and illustrates one reason why liberals will never understand the importance of victory in Iraq. This isn't just a policy issue!"John Joyce

Yes, for people like John Joyce, this isn't about policy. It also isn't about spreading Democracy, eliminating WMDs, fighting terrorists, or advancing our country's interests in the Middle East... as revealed in the first sentence, its about one thing only -that liberals are evil creatures who's entire strategy in life is to force good people to abort their babies, murder their brain-dead relatives, have sex with rotund interns, and prevent the necessary bloodshed of thousands of sons and daughters of our nation. John Joyce, so long as you are victim to your anti-liberal prejudice your opinions are made irrelevant by their lack of connection to reality.
If you're reading this and think, "yeah, thats right, this guy Joyce is a conservative, who's goal in life is to make it legal for infants to carry firearms, make it impossible for women to control their own destinies, eliminate taxes for wealthy Americans, and to round up Mexicans and force them to live in leper colonies...then your opinions are just as irrelevant and out of touch with reality as Joyce's are.
Instead of demonizing and belittling each other, the time has come for us all to recognize that our differences in opinions aren't based upon one group being evil and the other group being good. Intelligent people can disagree on crucial matters without either side being evil, or having a monopoly on the truth. Our country, at what may be it's most important crossroads of the 21st century, needs for us to start being the rational creatures we are all capable of being. We need to find the common ground and there lay the foundation of a foreign policy that shows a level of leadership, a level of humanitarianism, a level of lawfulness and disdain for chaos we used to demand from our leaders; in short, a policy that returns the U.S. to the position of righteous and principled arbiter of the world where secular laws of sovereign nations are not the playthings of misguided policymakers.
Whether you hate liberals, despise conservatives or are lost somewhere in the middle of those extremes, couldn't you find it in your heart somewhere to care more about our country than you care about the petty name-calling and loathing that motivates your words and opinions? Couldn't you at least try?

Posted by: Patrick Huss | July 22, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

The bickering about who is good and who is evil doesn't advance the usefulness of our public discourse.

We need a good dose of reality. Living in a state of wishfull thinking and pretention only complicates our ability to solve real problems.

The probability that the September report will trumpet some progress and limited improvement of the situation with a plead for more time.

The question is: If so, then what do we do?

Posted by: dikalogos | July 23, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

It's good to hear that John Kerry's bill to withdraw troops from Iraq has gained a larger amount of votes than when he first introduced it in 2006. The Iraq War as guzzled 340 billion dollars already [Borgen Project] when the U.S.'s resources could be put to better things such as global poverty. All that is needed is 19 billion to end starvation and malnutrition worldwide. It is a better alternative.

Posted by: Erica | July 23, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

EPRI-NRDC Report Finds Benefits in Plug-in Electric Hybrids

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) release a comprehensive assessment that found that widespread use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the United States could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and potentially improve ambient air quality.
The research measures the impact of increasing numbers of PHEVs between 2010 and 2050, including the nationwide environmental impact of potentially large fleets that would use electricity from the grid as their primary fuel source.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of the reasons why the United States chose to invade Iraq or even why a US presence remains there today, it is clear that the Bush Administration is putting too many of its resources--OUR resources-- into remaining there. To date, the war has cost over $340 billion dollars--money which could have been spent much more wisely and with better end results. It is estimated, for example, that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach. Thus, it is clear that the occupation of Iraq needs to end, and it needs to end now without regard to what this will do to United States interest in Iraq's oil. There are simply much more important issues that need to be addressed.

Posted by: Jessica | July 23, 2007 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Despite the record low approval ratings, President Bush and his administration are still arrogant and blinded by the Iraq War. The people of this country are fed up with Bush's senseless war and the lack of domestic policies. There are much more important issues in this world that the US should be taking part in, such as global poverty. According to the Borgen Project, whose goal is to fight global poverty, US is one of the nations pledged in the Millennium Development Project. MDP is aimed at eliminating world poverty in half by the year 2015. However, this country has done anything but reducing poverty. The war on "terror" has created more poverty, more hunger and more violence within Iraq and the United States. It is time for this country's president to rethink the direction where this great nation is going. Perhaps the second lowest approval rating since Watergate will be a wake up call to President Bush.

Posted by: Poverty | July 23, 2007 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Now that it is obvious that support for the war in Iraq is lacking in every conceivable sector of the American population, the continuing stubbornness of the Administration and its lackeys to even consider changing the doomed course they have set themselves on is both frustrating and infuriating. It is also frustrating because they continue to ignore and draw attention away from other areas which have a real potential to help people. For example, the fight against global poverty, as conceived of in the UN's Millennium Development goals is one of the most promising and critical issues of our time. But it is lacking critical political and economic support in the US because the war in Iraq is sucking resources and attention away from everything else.

Posted by: Maggie | July 23, 2007 10:06 PM | Report abuse

While the U.S. government and media keep focusing on defense policies, campaign advertisement and the war in Iraq, 1.2 billion people in the world continue surviving on less than $1 dollar a day. I would like to all presidential candidates and political leaders support, more international problems that affect our place in this world, such as global poverty. We should not forget the commitment made towards the U.N. Millennium Goals (a pact of ending extreme world hunger by the year 2025) in 2000. While the U.S. government and media keep focusing on defense policies and the war in Iraq, 1.2 billion people in the world continue surviving on less than $1 dollar a day. According to The Borgen Project, an annual $19 billion dollars is needed to eliminate half of the extreme poverty affecting the world by the year 2015. To my sense, it is almost unacceptable to have spent so far more than $340 billion in Iraq only, when we have more than war immunities to change the world and eliminate poverty.

Posted by: aileench | July 23, 2007 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Our president, a young man during the Vietnam War, should take to heart the words of another George (Santayana):
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: islandteacher | July 24, 2007 12:21 AM | Report abuse

I thank God for every day I do NOT hear Kerry say anything.

BTW: It is so easy to say 'Get out of Iraq', but telling the terrorists to 'stay out of the USA' is another thing.

I am so glad there is a several-thousand-mile-buffer between the majority of Islmaic radicals and my home.

If we run from Irag now, we'll have no place to run TO in the future.

Posted by: Peter Heilemann | July 24, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Erica-

You wrote "All that is needed is 19 billion to end starvation and malnutrition worldwide".

With over 5 billion people in the world, how will spending $4 per person END starvation & malnutrition???

Most of the people starving in this world are in that situation not due to lack of food but political corruption and greed in the communist and radical Islamist countries.

Get real.

Posted by: Peter Heilemann | July 24, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

In between these dramas, would you or someone you know kindly report statistics on the civilian/contractor involvement in the military action in Iraq. I generally hear of US Military then Iraq civilian statistics daily but have had to search for information to get an idea of the civilian/contractor statistics.

I have heard they equal or exceed the US military statistics, but would rather rely on a professional journalist research.

And did any of the $100B military supplemental go to the civilian/contractors?


Posted by: Thomas | July 25, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Petraeus will say whatever the White House tells him to say.
And by the way, Bush never even got near Vietnam.

Posted by: RMHK | July 25, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

John J what does victory in IRAQ mean?
Only you , Bush and Cheney seem to know

Posted by: larry G | August 1, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

John J , what does victory in IRAQ mean?
Only you , Bush and Cheney seem to know

Posted by: larry G | August 1, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

John J , what does victory in IRAQ mean?
Only you , Bush and Cheney seem to know

Posted by: larry G | August 1, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

John J , what does victory in IRAQ mean?
Only you , Bush and Cheney seem to know

Posted by: larry G | August 1, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

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