Reid's Road to 60: There's Always Next Year
In mid-July Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) kept the chamber in all night to debate a pivotal procedural vote setting a firm deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. Four Republicans sided with him then, but the motion failed.
Fast forward to today: In the wake of last week's high-profile congressional testimony from the top general and diplomat in Baghdad, Reid could muster the support of only three Republicans for the same amendment. The measure went down again.
In trying to force President Bush to alter his Iraq war policies, Reid has run into a legislative dead-end, at least for this year. With a bare majority in the Senate, Reid and the Democrats are powerless to pass major war policy legislation without the help of Republicans. And for now, the GOP is divided into three camps on the war in a way that denies the Democrats the 60-vote super majority they need to get anything done.
The smallest camp -- the trio of Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) -- has abandoned President Bush on his war policy. Those three voted with Reid in July and again today on the Levin-Reed amendment.
The largest GOP bloc on Iraq consists of about 37 lawmakers who appear to be solidly behind Bush's war policy and have done nothing to indicate they might defect. That's a critical number for White House war planners, because Bush would need 34 votes to uphold a veto of any Democratic legislation.
For now, however, Reid would settle for clearing the 60-vote threshold needed to beat a Republican filibuster of firm withdrawal language, and for that he would need to enlist a half-dozen more Republicans. And that search will focus on the third bloc of Republicans: nine senators who consistently criticize Bush but who, when push comes to shove, will not vote with Democrats on withdrawal. Among this group are several facing tough reelection campaigns, a few wavering "old bulls" who sit atop key committees as ranking members, and several veteran politicians who are not particularly close to the White House.
Here's a Capitol Briefing breakdown of those potentially pivotal Republicans to watch closely in the coming months for signs of possible movement:
The Politically Challenged
Norm Coleman (Minn.):
He has supported some anti-war bills. Those include the non-binding resolution in February that disapproved of the surge and the Webb amendment in July and this week that would have limited Pentagon's ability to quickly re-deploy soldiers back to the battlefield after serving in Iraq. Coleman also distanced himself from Bush by calling for Alberto Gonzales's resignation as attorney general. He's going to face a strong anti-war challenge next November from either comedian and writer Al Franken or independently wealthy lawyer Mike Ciresi.
Susan Collins (Maine):
Collins supported the cloture motion for the Levin-Reed amendment to set a deadline for withdrawal, but she remains on this watch list. That's because she indicated today that while she favored allowing a debate on the amendment, she doesn't favor it. And in the event next year that she became the 60th vote in favor of ending a filibuster of the amendment, Collins would come under intense pressure from Bush and GOP leaders to switch her vote to kill it. She will face Rep. Tom Allen (D) in a potentially tough 2008 race.
John Sununu (N.H.):
He's arguably the most endangered GOP incumbent, representing a state where Bush's approval rating has dipped below 30 percent. Sununu's two "yea" votes on the Webb amendment are his only major votes with Democrats on Iraq. But he was the first Republican to call for Gonzales's resignation. He is facing a rematch next year against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) from their bitterly close 2002 race.
The Wavering Bulls
Pete Domenici (N.M.):
This 35-year veteran has sent mixed messages on Iraq. Domenici called a press conference in Albuquerque in early July to declare he was "unwilling to continue our current strategy." Domenici, the ranking member of the energy committee, endorsed the Salazar-Alexander proposal to implement the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. But after Bush's speech last week, announcing a gradual roll back of the surge, Domenici issued a statement calling mandated withdrawal "catastrophic". He voted with GOP leaders on every key vote this week.
Richard Lugar (Ind.):
The ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee issued a more than 5,000-word address on Senate floor in late June declaring the surge a failure: "The costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved." But Lugar has sided with GOP leaders on every major vote, rejecting even the Webb amendment.
John Warner (Va.):
The ranking member on the Armed Services Committee has also sent mixed messages. At a Oct. 5, 2006 press conference, after returning from an Iraq trip, Warner said Iraq had "two or three months" to bring down the violence and, short of that, he would not "take off the table any option at this time." He has been similarly critical this year, voting with Democrats in February on the anti-surge resolution. But he never supported withdrawal deadlines, and this week he flip-flopped on the Webb amendment.
The Concerned Veterans
Lamar Alexander (Tenn.):
The former Tennessee governor and education secretary is highly critical of Bush's handling of the war, co-sponsoring with Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) the proposal based on the Iraq Study Group recommendations. But Alexander alternately accuses Reid of overtly politicizing the process by not allowing their amendment to be voted on, and has not sided with Democrats on any key Iraq vote. Alexander ran in the 2000 presidential primary against Bush.
Elizabeth Dole (N.C.):
The former labor and transportation secretary raised eyebrows with her questioning of General David H. Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Sept. 11. She said current "U.S. force levels are not sustainable beyond next spring" and recommended shifting troops away from combat missions and into border security. Those were her most critical comments of Iraq to date, but Dole - who also ran against Bush in 2000 - has not sided with Democrats on any major legislation.
George Voinovich (Ohio):The day of Lugar's anti-surge address on the Senate floor, Voinovich sent his own missive directly to Bush, in the form of a letter calling for withdrawal: "We can accomplish more in Iraq by gradually and responsibly reducing our forces and focusing on a robust strategy of international cooperation and coordinated foreign aid." Voinovich has been a thorn in the White House's side on other foreign policy matters, at one point delaying the approval of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. But, ultimately, Voinovich has sided with Bush on every critical Iraq vote, even opposing the Democratic non-binding resolution opposed to the surge.
September 21, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
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