Republicans and Democrats offer similar Iraq amendments

Senate Democratic leaders are calling on the White House to deliver quarterly reports to Congress and the public on progress in Iraq, giving estimated dates for bringing American troops home.

Led by Carl Levin (Mich.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Democrats plan to offer an amendment this week to the defense authorization bill that would require the reports and outline the nonbinding “sense of the Senate” that success in Iraq requires a transition to Iraqi self-government, a recognition that American troops should not be deployed to Iraq “indefinitely” and an administration explanation of U.S. strategy.

“Our troops deserve a strategy in Iraq that’s worthy of the sacrifice they’re making every day,” Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said at a press conference yesterday. “Staying the course is no longer an option.”

The legislative effort to extract a timetable for withdrawal comes as Democrats continue to ramp up their rhetoric on the war, its justification and the administration’s handling of prewar intelligence. It comes in the shadow of a Veterans Day speech Friday in which President Bush assailed his critics by suggesting they are undermining American forces and emboldening enemies.

“The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges,” Bush said of critics who say the administration misled Congress and the nation as it prepared for war.

“These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will,” Bush added. “As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.”

Democrats claimed victory yesterday by noting that many provisions of an amendment offered by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) are identical to the Democrats’ amendment. But there are key differences. The Democratic call for a timetable for withdrawal was excised from the GOP version, a statement that “United States military forces should not stay in Iraq indefinitely” was changed to say that they should not be there “any longer than necessary,” and the first report, required in 30 days by the Democratic amendment, would be required 90 days after enactment of the defense authorization measure under the GOP plan.

Democrat after Democrat, including 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry (Mass.) and possible 2008 candidate Russ Feingold (Wis.), took to the floor to support the Democratic amendment. Feingold said Bush is one of a dwindling number of people who are opposed to development of a public timetable for withdrawal. Feingold and Kerry are among the amendment’s co-sponsors.

Rather than staging a full debate over a timetable for withdrawal, which appears certain to take shape on the floor later in the week, the parties are clashing over who wrote the amendment.

Republicans say the idea was theirs.

“Our amendment came first,” Eric Ueland, Frist’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail. “It is classic spin of losers to claim victory from the words of the winners, which is exactly what Democrats portrayed,” Ueland said.

“Not true,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.

At their press conference, Democrats circulated a copy of their amendment with Democratic co-sponsors crossed out, Warner and Frist’s names inserted, and the key changes made in pen.

“That is their handwritten changes to our amendment,” Manley said in an e-mail. “We drafted, provided them our text, and then they made changes to our amendment and filed it as theirs.”

Democrats said the agreement on many provisions indicates bipartisan support for a shift in the administration’s Iraq policy.

“There are many, many things … that we do agree on, and the first is, change is necessary,” said Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip.

Among the items common to the amendments: “The administration needs to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq.”

Sixty-three House members, led by Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), have signed on to a joint resolution calling on the White House to develop a withdrawal plan by the end of the year. The resolution was introduced in June.

Republican leaders are preparing to fire back. In a memo to be delivered to his colleagues today at their weekly policy luncheon, Frist asserts that Democrats are waging a “public-relations campaign of mass deception” in suggesting that the administration “cherry-picked” intelligence before the war.

“Their accusations defy reason, logic and fact … and their own words,” Frist writes, according to a copy of the memo provided by a Senate leadership aide.

“Throughout the Clinton Administration, Democrats — up to and including, the president, vice president, secretary of state, national security adviser and more — warned of the dangers posed to America by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. There was no question of ‘if,’ only ‘where’ and ‘how much.’” Frist writes.

“The conclusion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and sought an even more lethal capacity was a premise held by intelligence agencies under the last two administrations, as well as intelligence agencies from around the world. For Democrats to engage in partisan finger-pointing now ignores their own statements from not long ago.”