The Senate on Thursday rejected a Democratic resolution to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2008, but a similar measure advanced in the House, and Democratic leaders vowed to keep challenging President Bush to change course in Iraq.
The vote in the Senate was 50 against and 48 in favor, 12 short of what was needed to pass, with just a few defections in each party. It came just hours after the House Appropriations Committee, in another vote largely on party lines, approved an emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that also includes a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. The House will vote on that legislation next Thursday, setting the stage for another confrontation.
The action in both houses threw into sharp relief the Democratic strategy of ratcheting up the pressure, vote by vote, to try to force the White House to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. But it also highlighted Republican unity in opposition; in the Senate, only one Republican, Sen. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, voted with the Democrats.
Republican leaders said they counted the day as a victory. "It is clear now that the majority of the Senate opposes a deadline for the withdrawal of troops," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, countered, "The Republicans are rubber-stamping the president's failed policy. That's the message here."
President Bush, speaking at a Republican fundraising dinner, applauded the senators who voted against a timetable. "Many of those members know what I know: that if American forces were to step back from Baghdad now, before the capital city is more secure, the scale and scope of attacks would increase and intensify," he said.
The Democratic resolution in the Senate would have redefined the U.S. mission in Iraq and set a goal of withdrawing U.S. combat troops by March 31, 2008, except for a "limited number" focused on counterterrorism, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and protecting U.S. and allied personnel. The House measure set a withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.
The prospects for either the House or Senate measure winning final passage were always considered slim, given that the Senate legislation needed a so-called supermajority of 60 to advance. Even so, the White House issued forceful veto threats, sending a clear signal to Republicans where the president stood. The White House also worked behind the scenes this week to keep Republicans on board.
Both parties consider these measures an important political statement, a measure of how far the debate over Iraq has moved in recent months, and a sign of Americans' discontent with the war.
But Sen. Norm Coleman, a moderate Republican from Minnesota who voted against the Democratic measure, argued that the final vote could still be misleading. "There is frustration and deep concern about the war," said Coleman, who is facing a tough re-election fight next year.
As they left the Senate floor, several other moderate Republicans who are facing difficult re-election campaigns next year were quick to register their opposition to the president's overall Iraq strategy. But they said they were leery of legislating a troop pullout to begin within four months.