- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Support for the surge in Iraq could fail if enough Republican senators break ranks after a September progress report, said the body”s second-ranking Republican, Trent Lott.

A handful of Republicans — most recently Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of the party”s conservative leaders on immigration — say they now favor a reduction in American troop levels.

“I do think status quo is not acceptable,” said Mr. Lott of Mississippi during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is an evolutionary thing.”

Mr. Lott, the Senate minority whip, said he thinks that there are signs of progress in Iraq and that the surge should be given more time before being judged a success or failure. Still, he acknowledged that continued support is not certain if the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, does not report “tremendous change” in September.

“I think it will depend on the circumstances,” he said. “Let”s wait and see what happens.”

Several Democratic lawmakers predict that Republican support for the war will begin to publicly diminish if Gen. Petraeus delivers a mixed report in September.

“Could get one or two. I expect you”ll have more in the fall,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, told ABC”s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.

“I hear even from some Republicans, ‘Well, September is an important month. We may well change. We know that this can”t go on forever,” in September,” added Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mrs. Feinstein said her party would try to pass another withdrawal timeline and send it to President Bush.

“We will try to add something to the defense authorization bill, probably along the lines of having troops out by April, by the end of April,” she said.

Mr. Sessions said the perception of the surge should not dramatically alter its time frame either way.

“I consider the surge to be that: a surge,” he said during his ABC appearance.

Mr. Sessions cited what he considers positive examples of progress from the surge but said it did not mean he would support keeping it in place through 2008.

“In the end, we”re going to have to ask ourselves: What do we do and how do we reduce our presence in Iraq? We do not need to be an occupying power,” he said. “We just can”t do that.”

Mr. Sessions said he doesn”t favor a specific withdrawal date but said it would be difficult for Gen. Petraeus to make the case for extending the surge into next year.

“I think he”ll have to justify that. I think people expect that the surge will begin to be drawn down,” he said.

A poll released last week by Rasmussen Reports found that just 19 percent of respondents said Congress was doing a “good or excellent” job.

Mrs. Feinstein said she thinks Iraq, and specifically her party”s inability to get a withdrawal date signed into law, are largely responsible for the decline in approval.

“I”ll tell you, that reason, in my view, is Iraq,” she said. “Most Democrats want us out of Iraq. … You need 60 votes for virtually anything that”s controversial, and so it”s not that easy to obtain the goal. I think people don”t understand this. I think people think we wanted it done now. It hasn”t been done now.”

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