- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

2:01 p.m.

President Bush summoned Republicans skeptical of the war to the White House today as Democrats won support from a Republican senator for a resolution expressing opposition to a troop buildup in Iraq.

Democratic House and Senate leaders intend to hold votes to gauge Republican opposition to Mr. Bush’s decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. The Senate leadership is expected by tomorrow to propose a resolution denouncing the plan, with debate planned around the same time the president delivers his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican critic of the administration’s Iraq policy and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, is working with Senate Democrats on a resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s troop buildup.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the House will follow suit with its own resolution.

The White House said Mr. Bush would meet today with Republican senators about the president’s plans in Iraq. He refused to say who was invited but said that “probably everybody there is at least skeptical” about the buildup.

The resolutions likely would be a symbolic expression of Congress but would not affect the Pentagon’s war budget or challenge the president’s authority over U.S. forces. Such votes, however, could be a shot across the bow to Mr. Bush, who said Jan. 10 that the extra troops are needed to protect U.S. interests in Iraq.

The resolutions also would help Democrats measure Republican support for more aggressive legislative tactics, such as cutting off funds for the war.

Such a vote puts many Republicans in an uncomfortable position. They will have to decide whether to stay loyal to Mr. Bush and risk angering voters disillusioned by the war or buck the party line.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and likely 2008 presidential candidate, said today that she thinks there should be a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq and that she wants “to condition American aid to the Iraqis on their meeting political benchmarks.”

Mr. Bush has been trying to sell his revised war plan to the public in a series of television interviews. He told PBS’ Jim Lehrer in an interview broadcast yesterday that keeping his old policies in place would lead to “a slow failure,” but withdrawing from Iraq, as some Democrats and other critics suggest, would result in an “expedited failure.”

“I am frustrated with the progress,” he said. “A year ago, I felt pretty good about the situation. I felt like we were achieving our objective, which is a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself. No question, 2006 was a lousy year for Iraq.”

Mr. Bush also said that the execution of Saddam Hussein “looked like it was kind of a revenge killing,” making it harder to convince a skeptical U.S. public that Iraq’s government will keep promises central to his plan for a troop increase.

In spite of Mr. Bush’s efforts to gain support, several Republican lawmakers are offering just tepid endorsements of his plan, as well as a wait-and-see approach to the Democratic resolution.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, said his vote would depend on what Democrats come up with. He said he supports the troop push if the Iraqis offer guarantees that they will reach a political settlement.

Likewise, Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire — both up for re-election in 2008 — say they think Mr. Bush’s plan might work, but only if the Iraqis come up with a way to share oil and reach other political milestones.

Lining up behind Mr. Bush in the Senate are Republican stalwarts and a few members who have long backed sending more troops to Iraq, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

At least seven Republican senators have said they flatly oppose the troop increase: Sam Brownback of Kansas, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Susan Collins of Maine, Mr. Hagel, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.

Acknowledging their party is divided on Iraq, Republican leaders are trying to stave off a showdown in Congress by casting Democratic efforts as a political ploy to embarrass the president.

Republicans also are discussing alternative proposals, including one House resolution promising to keep funding for troops in combat.

The White House cautioned lawmakers about the consequences of voting against a buildup.

“The one thing the president has said is, whatever you do, make sure you support the troops,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said. “And the question people who support this resolution will have to ask is, how does this support the troops?”

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