Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sen. Jon Kyl yesterday said he is “confident” that Congress’ Republican minority will remain unified enough to block attempts by Democrats to cut funding for the Iraq war or to set troop withdrawal timetables.

The chairman of the Republican Policy Committee said recent antiwar pronouncements by a couple of Senate Republicans does not mean they will support the upcoming onslaught of Democratic measures designed to end the war.

“I think what we have here is, ironically, a pretty shared vision of where we want to go,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said before the meeting with Mr. Kyl at the White House about relations between Mr. Bush and Republican senators on the Iraq issue.

Mr. Kyl’s comments came hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said several war-altering amendments and bills will be offered in the next couple of weeks.

There are “a growing number of Republicans who are now speaking against the failed strategy in Iraq — and that’s good,” said Mr. Reid, who has vowed repeatedly to pursue the war’s end since losing a veto showdown with President Bush in May over emergency war spending.

“And these Republican defections are apparently leading the White House to consider changing its mission.”

Both Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, have voiced opposition to Mr. Bush’s war strategy.

But the Bush administration and its congressional allies say that the just-completed troop surge in Iraq needs time to work, and they have no plans for drawing down troops until military commanders say it’s the best course of action.

“[Mr. Bush] has made it clear that his goal is to get to the point where we can begin to bring American troops in Iraq, based upon a successful conclusion to our military operations there, as well as the Iraqi government doing things that it needs to do,” Mr. Kyl said after meeting with administration officials at the White House.

However, last night the Associated Press reported that the draft of an interim report to Congress on the troop surge, scheduled for delivery to Congress this week, will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Iraq has met none of its targets for political, economic and other reforms.

“The facts are not in question,” a U.S. official told AP on the condition of anonymity. “The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report.”

Democrats, meanwhile, began their renewed antiwar push yesterday by introducing legislation to set a minimum length of rest time for troops returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before they can be redeployed to war zones overseas.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, and attached to the 2008 Senate defense authorization bill, says that if a unit or member of a regular component of the armed forces deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will have the same amount of time at home before being redeployed.

No unit or member of a reserve component, including the National Guard, could be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within three years of their previous deployment.

“We’ve reached the point where we can no longer allow the ever-changing nature of this administration’s operational policies to drive the way our troops are being deployed,” Mr. Webb.

One Republican — Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska — was among the amendment’s 31 co-sponsors.

Despite taking over both houses of Congress in January, Democrats have struggled to push forward their antiwar agenda that is of the utmost importance to their liberal base.

Mr. Bush in May vetoed the emergency war spending bill because it called for most troops to be withdrawn by March. Democratic leaders could not generate support to override Mr. Bush and removed the pull out schedule, setting up passage of about $95 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30 and billions in domestic projects.

Two weeks later, a bill co-sponsored by Mr. Reid and Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, which called for cutting off money for combat operations after March 2008, failed in the Senate by a vote of 29-67 — 31 votes shy of what was needed to debate it.

Polls show Congress’ approval rating is at 25 percent — five points below Mr. Bush. Pollsters attributed the low numbers mainly to Democratic voters voicing concern over their party’s inability to effect change regarding the war.

“The American people expect this change, and they expect it now,” Mr. Reid said.

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