Republicans Uniting Around Proposal for 2008 Iraq Withdrawal
By Julianna Goldman and Laura Litvan
July 6, 2007

July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Congressional Republicans, increasingly voicing dissatisfaction with the course of the Iraq war, are beginning to unite around a proposal that may allow for a drawdown of U.S. combat forces by March 2008.

In the Senate, six Republicans are backing legislation introduced by Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee that implements the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

While it doesn't set a deadline for withdrawal, it aims to create conditions that could lead to a redeployment of U.S. troops as early as the first quarter of next year. In the House, 33 Republicans support similar legislation.

"It's obvious today that we need a new strategy," Alexander said in an interview today. "We expect more to join us."

The measures may become the vehicles for more congressional Republicans to publicly rebuff Bush's war policies, said Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group offers a way out for Republicans growing apprehensive about the fact that the U.S., after sending some 20,000 additional troops to Iraq this year, has little to show for it, he said.

"There are Republicans up for re-election in 2008 who are desperate for cover, and this gives it to them," Baker said. "It's a tent under which a lot of moderates and even conservatives can camp temporarily."

The U.S. now has about 157,000 troops in Iraq, and the death toll has climbed above 3,500.

Domenici Speaks

New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, who is up for re-election next year, yesterday added to the list of Republican critics, saying the Iraqi government is "failing" and announcing his support for the Salazar-Alexander proposal. Two other Republican co-sponsors of the bill, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire are up for re-election in 2008 as well. Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah also is a cosponsor of the measure.

"A surge by itself is not a new strategy," Alexander said. "That's the flaw in the administration's approach."

Alexander said he and Salazar will meet July 9 to discuss options for bringing the bill before the Senate. Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican and another supporter, said it will probably be offered as an amendment to a defense authorization bill that the Senate will take up next week. Gregg, a long-time Bush ally, said he decided to back the measure because it is clear that the additional troops aren't quelling sectarian violence in Iraq.

Specific Proposal

"I don't think we're making a lot of progress doing what we're doing," Gregg said in an interview today. "The Iraq Study Group I thought laid out a very specific and very comprehensive proposal that makes sense as a way to extricate ourselves from a very difficult situation."

Domenici's comments came just days after calls for change in Iraq by Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Virginia's John Warner, the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, announced his opposition to the troop increase earlier this year. Last December, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, another Republican up for re-election, said supporting the administration's war policy was "absurd."

The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, headed by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, "offer an approach that is consistent with what Senator Lugar, Senator Voinovich and Senator Warner have been saying," Alexander said.

Bush Urges Patience

The White House is asking Congress "to be patient," and to give the so-called surge more time to work, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said today. "It's way too early to give a definitive grade" on whether the strategy is working.

The Iraq Study Group proposals have been part of the Democratic Senate strategy for establishing timelines toward a troop withdrawal. President George W. Bush has also said he embraces particular aspects.

"The recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appeal to me, and that is to be embedded and to train and to guard the territorial integrity of the country and to have special forces to chase down al-Qaeda," Bush said in May.

Still, neither the Senate Democratic leadership, nor the White House has indicated they are ready to embrace the bill, according to Alexander.

"They both seem equally uncomfortable with our legislation, which means we may be on about the right track," Alexander said.

Democrats' Plans

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said last week that a handful of other withdrawal proposals will be offered to the defense measure that stand to further test Republican unity with Bush.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to proceed with legislation this month that would require a redeployment of troops to begin within 120 days and end by April 1. Pelosi, a California Democrat, believes the measure is similar to the withdrawal deadline outlined by the Iraq Study Group and will challenge Republicans to join with Democrats against Bush's policies, said Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman.

"Now it's going to be up to Republicans to decide if they want to join us in a bipartisan way to change course in Iraq," Elshami said.

In the House, where all 435 lawmakers are up for re- election in 2008, co-sponsors include Republican Representatives Mike Castle of Delaware and Chris Shays of Connecticut, who contended with strong opposition to the war in his district in the 2006 election.

"We're starting to see an erosion that may well result in a landslide," Ross Baker said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at , and Laura Litvan in Washington at
Last Updated: July 6, 2007 13:45 EDT

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