7 GOP Senators Back War Debate
Lawmakers Had Blocked Action on Troop Resolution
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007; Page A01
Senate Republicans who earlier this week helped block
deliberations on a resolution opposing President
Bush's new troop deployments in Iraq changed course
yesterday and vowed to use every tactic at their
disposal to ensure a full and open debate.
In a letter distributed yesterday evening to Senate
leaders, John W. Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and
five other GOP supporters of the resolution threatened
to attach their measure to any bill sent to the floor
in the coming weeks. Noting that the war is the "most
pressing issue of our time," the senators declared:
"We will explore all of our options under the Senate
procedures and practices to ensure a full and open
The letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry M.
Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) was not more specific about the Republican
senators' strategy for reviving the war debate. But
under the chamber's rules, senators have wide latitude
in slowing the progress of legislation and in offering
amendments, regardless of whether they have anything
to do with the bill.
The letter began circulating yesterday evening after
it became apparent the Senate was deadlocked over the
war resolution and Reid was prepared to move on to
other matters. McConnell and many in his party have
aggressively defended their decision to block the
bipartisan resolution as an issue of fairness because
Democrats would not agree to GOP procedural demands.
But some Republicans were uneasy about appearing to
have stymied the debate. The letter appeared so
suddenly that, although it was addressed to Reid, the
Democratic leader had not seen his copy before Warner
read the text on the Senate floor.
"Monday's procedural vote should not be interpreted as
any lessening of our resolve to go forward advocating
the concepts" of the resolution, the letter said. "The
current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the
people of this country."
House Democratic leaders are attempting to formulate
their own nonbinding expression of disapproval of
Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 troops to
battle, and they intend to devote three days next week
to debating it.
A top Pentagon leader weighed in yesterday on the war
debate and appeared to undercut the argument advanced
by the White House and many GOP lawmakers that a
congressional debate challenging the Bush plan would
hurt troop morale.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in
Washington strengthens our democracy. Period," Marine
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, testified before the House Armed Services
Committee. He added that potential enemies may take
some comfort from the rancor but said they "don't have
a clue how democracy works."
Congress is grappling with several nonbinding
resolutions, each of which addresses Bush's deployment
plan, even as public support for the war declines and
conditions on the ground grow increasingly perilous.
The debate has particularly vexed Republicans, who are
reluctant to abandon Bush at a critical moment but who
also regard the party's defeat in the November midterm
elections as a signal that voters want Congress to
challenge White House war policy more aggressively.
The Senate was poised to debate a nonbinding
resolution opposing the additional troop deployment
and calling for a diplomatic initiative to settle the
conflict in Iraq. Republicans refused to allow the
resolution to reach the floor, relying on a standard
Five of the seven Senate signatories to yesterday's
letter -- including Warner, the bipartisan
resolution's chief author -- had voted Monday to block
the debate. By showing party solidarity, they had
hoped to pressure Democrats into allowing the
consideration of other nonbinding measures, namely two
that are more supportive of the administration's
policy. But Democratic leaders refused to relent, and
the long-awaited war debate -- or at least the opening
chapter -- ended almost as soon as it began.
The Republican senators attempted in their letter to
clear up the apparent contradiction. "Monday's
procedural vote should not be interpreted as any
lessening of our resolve to go forward," the senators
insisted. But they voiced the GOP leadership's view
that other resolutions should receive an equal
"The Senate should be allowed to work its will on our
resolution as well as the concepts being brought
forward by other senators," the letter stated.
The other Republican senators who signed the letter
were Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Norm
Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), and George V.
Democrats brushed off the Republicans' declaration as
too little, too late. Reid spokesman Jim Manley said
in a statement: "Senator Reid gave Senator Warner and
the others a chance to vote for their own resolution
on Monday, but only two of them chose to do so.
Hopefully this letter signifies that the others have
had a change of heart, and will be willing to vote for
their own resolution in the future."
After reading the text on the Senate floor, Warner
hurried back to his office, declining to answer
questions. He would not specify whether he and his
allies would seek to block specific bills, including a
huge spending package that the Senate is expected to
take up today, to fund government activities for the
current fiscal year. Warner did indicate whether he
will attempt to amend the funding package with his
In the letter, the senators said they will offer the
resolution "where possible" on bills as they come
before the Senate.
House Democrats had hoped for a large bipartisan
Senate vote on Warner's resolution to create momentum
in the House and to provide maximum pressure on
Republicans to go along. But with the Senate at a
standstill, House leaders are considering a
straightforward resolution that opposes the troop
increase, without the multiple provisions that
complicated Warner's text. Senior House Democrats
predicted that their measure will attract overwhelming
party support and possibly as many as 30 GOP votes.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.