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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.):
ColemanHe 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):
CollinsCollins 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.):
SununuHe'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.):
DomeniciThis 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.):
LugarThe 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.):
WarnerThe 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.):
AlexanderThe 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.):
DoleThe 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.

By Paul Kane  |  September 21, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
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Next: McConnell Works to Turn Critics' Attacks Into Strengths


hey Paul.

You are a man of integrity and have guts. How bout somebody report or blog on the corrupt culture of these PACs? For instance, Gingrich's new one that is simply adding to his coffers and doing not much else. Here's a link to an apparent insider's blog reporting on the shady call center company he is employing to pad himself. Now, I'm sure this goes on all across the board, but someone needs to call attention to such. You seem like one with the guts to do so and the platform to match.

Posted by: Samson Sestina | September 24, 2007 2:51 AM | Report abuse

Paul: Excellent analysis, except you forgot to address party politics. Regardless of the proposed legislation (e.g. Webb), Republicans will tow the party line just to prevent an opening for subsequent legislation; i.e. give an inch and they'll take a yard. You need to pursue that trail.

P.S. I'd like to see a similar analysis of the House, which is more complicated.

Posted by: Bruce Daniels | September 24, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

One other thought:

Harry Reid and the Democrats, including the candidates, have yet to offer the Republicans something they can't refuse -- or refuse at their own political risk. The bully pulpit alone, not votes, can move our course in Iraq. Let Bush and the Republicans hang themselves with advisory "benchmarks", not mandatory timetables.

Democrats, especially Liberals, need to better read the minds of independents, centrists and "Blue Dogs" and then risk hanging together.

Posted by: Bruce Daniels | September 24, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Hastert, LaHood and Weller recognize how the political winds are blowing--and it's not in their party's direction. So it's time to man the lifeboats. Will there be others?

I suppose that Alan Keyes' announcement to run for the presidential nomination will keep him out of Illinois political races for this next election. Too bad, a cartoon character on the Republican ticket would have been even more helpful in making Illinois even more blue.

However, before we get too confident, let's remember we still have many months to go before the election. And so long as Cheney is still scheming, the situation is fluid.

Posted by: pacman | September 24, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and by the way, the 60 votes to end a filibuster will only help part of the way. The real goal is a veto-proof 67 votes. And then we've got some real work in the House.

Posted by: pacman | September 24, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

With impeachment off the table, Ried is not going to get anywhere. Might as well have put up a big green light for Busholini to know he could do whatever the hell he wanted. Duuuuh.

All Busholini cares about is his pathetic "legacy", so unless Demz are ready to plop a big black splotch on it, they might as well pack it in.

My repsonse now to Dem entreaties for contributions is "No Impeachment, No money". If protecting the Constitution is "not worth it' according to Pelosi, their re-election is not worth it to me.

It takes a village to impeach an idiot.

Posted by: Kathleen Grasso Andersen | September 25, 2007 8:04 AM | Report abuse

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