Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senate ready to confront Bush over Iraq

U.S. Democrats ready to confront Bush over Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most U.S. senators were ready to confront President George W. Bush over his decision to add American troops in Iraq, according to Democrats who said on Tuesday they were close to a single bipartisan resolution denouncing the strategy.

"My guess is there will be an overwhelming rejection, on the record, of ... 'stay the course' with 20,000 more," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat.

The committee was to consider a resolution by Biden and other senators on Wednesday that rejects Bush's decision to add 21,500 troops in Baghdad and Anbar province.

Such a resolution would not be binding, but would express the Senate's opinion and would come to a vote next week, said Assistant Democratic leader Richard Durbin.

The unanswered question was whether Biden's resolution could be blended with a similar one offered by Warner -- a leading Republican voice on national security issues who has broken ranks with Bush over the Iraq war.

Both proposals already have co-sponsors in both parties. But Democrats, with 51 senators to the Republicans' 49, seemed drawn to the idea of developing a consensus proposal with Warner that would attract more Republican votes.

The proposals by Biden and Warner were "very very close," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "We are working to see if we can meld them."

Warner, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a longtime supporter of the Iraq war, began expressing concerns about it last autumn.

"There's a lot in ours that is not in the other (proposal)," Warner said, citing an emphasis on keeping U.S. troops out of sectarian conflict.

Democrats had at least 45 or 46 votes for a resolution opposing Bush's troop increase, Durbin said. Reid has said he hopes to get a dozen Republicans on sides.

But an independent who usually votes with the Democrats, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, warned against passing a resolution disapproving the troop increase, after Bush's choice to take command of the Iraq war -- Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus -- said that doing so would encourage the enemy in Iraq.

"I understand that the trains are on the legislative track and they're heading toward a collision, but I want to urge my colleagues to ... put the brakes on," Lieberman said during an Armed Services Committee hearing on Petraeus' nomination.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have said they will pass a similar resolution but are waiting for the Senate to move first.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan)