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GOP senators may offer alternative Iraq resolutions

January 26, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Scrambling to head off a potentially embarrassing congressional rebuke for President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, Senate Republicans are working on alternative legislation that would attach specific "benchmarks" to the White House plan.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the leading congressional advocate of deploying additional troops to quell the sectarian violence in Iraq, said Thursday that he was interested in drafting a resolution to ensure that the effectiveness of the troop increase could be gauged.

And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the president's most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, said he might introduce a similar resolution.

"It says we need to give it a chance," Cornyn said, echoing the president's State of the Union plea to lawmakers Tuesday to give his plan "a chance to work." "We owe it to our servicemen and servicewomen to say what we're for, not just what we're against."

The maneuvering comes after a rough two weeks for GOP lawmakers, who have been struggling to respond to Bush's deeply unpopular proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500 in the coming months.

If McCain and Cornyn introduce resolutions, they could draw support away from other resolutions that directly oppose the buildup, and could cast Democrats as impediments to progress in Iraq.

Six Republican senators have already expressed support for one of two resolutions that explicitly criticize the Bush plan, bringing Senate Democrats close to the GOP support needed to override any filibuster.

The more critical resolution -- sponsored by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) -- was approved Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sent to the Senate floor.

The second -- put together by Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- has the support of seven other senators, including two Republicans.

The White House has been working hard to derail both resolutions, which -- although nonbinding -- would mark the first time Congress has challenged Bush's leadership of the 4-year-old war.

"What they really want to come out of this is no resolution," said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Cornyn said he had talked about his plans with the White House as well as with Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Lieberman, a Democrat who won reelection as an independent in November, has been one of the strongest supporters of the president's plan.

Cornyn's and McCain's comments come days after House Republican leaders proposed their own measure to establish benchmarks, which they challenged Democrats to support.

"The new majority has two choices," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday. "They can either try to stop the president's new strategy and block funding for our troops, or they can join us in aggressively holding the Bush administration and the Iraqi government accountable for achieving success."

But Democrats -- buoyed by public disapproval of the president and his Iraq plan -- are pushing ahead with their plans to take on the White House.

On Thursday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the floor of the Senate to accuse Vice President Dick Cheney of being "out of touch with reality" for telling CNN that the administration had had "enormous successes in Iraq."

This report includes information from Times wire services.

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