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Congressional Democrats Split Over How to Stop the Iraq War

By Jeff Zeleny


The new Democratic majority in Congress is divided over how to assert its power in opposing President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, as leaders explore ways to block financing for a military expansion without being accused of abandoning American forces already in Iraq.

While Democrats find themselves unusually united in their resistance to a troop increase, party leaders are locked in an internal debate over how far to go in objecting to the administration’s Iraq strategy. The White House has invited some Democrats to meet with Bush before he gives his Iraq speech on Wednesday, even as others have scoured the history books to find cases when Congress has reined in the commander-in-chief.

In the most aggressive of the new tactics, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,D-Mass., has said he will introduce legislation on Tuesday to require the president to gain new congressional authority before sending more troops to Iraq. The bill is the first proposal in the Senate that would prohibit paying for an increase in American troops over their level on Jan. 1.

“Is there any American in this country who thinks the United States Senate would vote to support sending American troops into a civil war in Iraq today?” Kennedy said Monday in an interview. “Is there any American that believes this? I don’t think so, but that is what’s happening, and we have to do everything we can to insist on accountability.”

The Kennedy plan is designed to provide Democrats with a roadmap for how to proceed in Iraq. Kennedy, as he begins his 45th year in the Senate, recalled that Congress interceded during conflicts in Vietnam and Lebanon, and he said Democrats should not hesitate to do so in Iraq.

The new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has similarly suggested Democrats should consider blocking financing for a troop increase, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, vowed Monday “to take a look at it.”

But the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, has not endorsed the idea. Other Democrats, either looking ahead to a possible presidential candidacy or their own re-elections, have also distanced themselves from such a proposal, fearful of being cast as opposing the troops.

“I don’t think we should be pulling back any funds,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who was elected in November. She said she would oppose a proposal to block money for a troop increase.

The Democratic Party sailed to victory in last fall’s midterm elections on a promise to change course in Iraq. Still, there is little consensus over how to proceed.

Some Democrats are urging an immediate withdrawal of troops and a drastic reduction in war spending. Others are calling for a gradual redeployment of troops to move them out of Iraq. Still other Democrats are questioning the wisdom of a troop increase, but are waiting for Bush to present his plan before criticizing it.

The expectations set by the elections, Democrats say, present a complicating challenge as they begin to govern.