WASHINGTON A group of senators including a Republican war critic announced agreement today on a resolution opposing President Bush s 21,500 troop buildup in Iraq, setting their marker for a major clash between the White House and Congress over the unpopular war.
The non-binding resolution, which was also gaining interest from a second key Republican, would symbolically put the Senate on record as saying the U.S. commitment in Iraq can only be sustained with popular support among the American public and in Congress.
I will do everything I can to stop the president s policy as he outlined it Wednesday night, said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate, who joined Democrats at a press conference on the resolution.
I think it is dangerously irresponsible, Hagel said.
Even as skeptical Republicans were summoned to private meetings with Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley at the White House, Bush s aides made clear that the Capitol Hill challenge would be met aggressively by the administration.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said resolutions adopted by Congress will not affect Bush s decision-making.
The president has obligations as a commander in chief, he said. And he will go ahead and execute them.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., a chief author of the Senate resolution, said it says we do not support increased troops, deeper military involvement and calls for shifting the mission of U.S. troops from combat to training, counterterrorism and protecting Iraq s territorial integrity.
He said it also calls for the greater engagement of other countries in the region in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, told reporters that she is considering supporting the resolution and said she believed it heads in the right direction.
I want to make sure it s something I can support, said Snowe, who has adamantly opposed to the increase in troops.
The Senate leadership is expected by Thursday to propose the resolution, with debate planned around the same time that Bush delivers his State of the Union speech next Tuesday.
Hagel s agreement to help Democrats champion the resolution amounts to a setback to the administration and to Bush, who has argued vehemently that some 21,500 additional U.S. troops are needed to help the Iraqi government calm sectarian violence in Baghdad and Anbar province.
Bush announced on Jan. 10 that he planned to increase the 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq with an additional 21,5000 troops.
The resolutions in Congress seemed likely to be largely symbolic and they 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 Bush.
The resolutions also would help Democrats measure GOP 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 an unpopular GOP president and risk angering voters disillusioned by the war or buck the party line.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said today she thinks there should be a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq and said she wants to condition American aid to the Iraqis on their meeting political benchmarks.
I am opposed to this escalation, she said on NBC s Today program. The Bush administration has frankly failed to put any leverage on this government, said Clinton, considered a likely 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner, although she has not yet entered the race.
Bush has been trying to sell his revised war plan to the public in a series of television interviews. He told PBS s Jim Lehrer in an interview broadcast Tuesday 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, Bush 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.
Several GOP members of Congress have offered only lukewarm endorsements of Bush s plan.
Republican Rep. Chris Shays who scraped by in the November elections while his GOP Connecticut colleagues Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson lost their seats said his vote would depend on what Democrats come up with. He said he supports the troop push if there are guarantees offered by the Iraqis that they will reach a political settlement.
Lining up behind Bush in the Senate are Republican stalwarts and a few members who have long backed sending more troops to Iraq, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
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.
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, press secretary Tony Snow said at the White House. And the question people who support this resolution will have to ask is, how does this support the troops?
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