Republicans on Monday blocked Senate debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq, leaving in doubt whether the Senate would render a judgment on what lawmakers of both parties described as the paramount issue of the day.
The decision short-circuited what had been building as the first major congressional challenge to President Bush over his handling of the war since Democrats took control of Congress last month and left each party blaming the other for frustrating debate over a topic that many believe will be important to the 2008 presidential and congressional races.
The two parties deadlocked after Democrats refused a proposal by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, that would have cleared the way for a floor fight on a bipartisan resolution expressing disagreement with the White House plan for a troop buildup in Iraq. In return, McConnell sought votes on two competing Republican alternatives that were more supportive of the president.
One of those alternatives, by Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, would declare that Congress should not cut off any funds for forces in the field. That vote was seen as problematic for Democrats because many of them opposed any move to curtail spending, raising the prospect that it could have attracted the broadest support in the Senate.
Monday’s procedural vote, which divided mostly along party lines, left the Democratic leadership 11 votes short of the 60 needed to begin debate on the bipartisan resolution. The resolution, whose principal author was Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., had been in the works for weeks.
Forty-seven Democrats and two Republicans voted to open debate on the resolution; 45 Republicans and one independent were opposed.
The Republicans run a political risk with their resistance in the event that Democrats are able to persuade the public that the president’s allies are stonewalling in the Senate and shielding the president from criticism over an unpopular war. But their show of unity, with war critics including Warner of Virginia and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska siding with the leadership, lent some credibility to Republican claims that Democrats were being unfair.
“I am confident that somehow this matter will be worked out,” Warner said. But Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said that “time was tenuous” and that he would not guarantee that Democrats would try again to bring up the resolution. He did promise that there would be coming clashes over Iraq policy as the Senate turned to measures like the president’s request for $100 billion in emergency Iraq spending.
“You can run but you can’t hide,” Reid told his Republican colleagues on the floor. “We are going to debate Iraq.”
The result left the future of the Iraq fight unsettled, though Senate leaders indicated that they would continue to negotiate. Lawmakers on all sides of the issue said they anticipated that the Senate would ultimately approve a resolution of some kind because of intense public interest in the issue.