Democrats to use Petraeus’s comments to woo Republicans

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinStrange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns MORE (D-Mich.) and other Democrats began a fresh campaign Wednesday to woo centrist Republicans on Iraq, citing Gen. David Petraeus’s assertion that he would not stop cutting U.S. troop levels there when the number reached 130,000.
ADVERTISEMENT

Levin asked Petraeus late Tuesday whether the decision at that point, next March, would be over how fast to withdraw more troops or whether to withdraw them at all.

“Petraeus assured me that he favors continuing reductions beyond the pre-surge levels,” Levin said. “It reinforces what [Democrats] want to do.”

Levin led Democrats’ efforts Wednesday to court Republicans to back an Iraq-related amendment that the Senate is to consider next week. There were also negotiations within the Democratic Caucus, and Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info Poll: 47 percent back limits on Senate filibuster MORE (D-Nev.) signaled that there could be four to six Democratic proposals offered either as amendments to the Defense Department authorization bill or as stand-alone measures.

“At this stage it appears, clearly, it’s also the Republican senators’ war, and I hope that they will drop that legacy next week,” said Reid, who faces the daunting task of preventing defections from his own caucus while securing enough Republicans to reach 60 votes.

Democratic leaders are now using Petraeus’s comments to seek GOP support for a retooled version of Levin’s plan, originally rejected 52-47 by the Senate in July. The revised plan, also sponsored by Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Trump moving forward to divert .6B from military projects for border wall MORE (D-R.I.), would begin the reduction of U.S. troops, transition to new missions in Iraq and aim to complete the withdrawal by next spring. The question is whether to make April a firm deadline or soften it into a goal in the hope of attracting Republicans and securing the 60 votes needed to overcome a likely filibuster.

Levin said he expected “some” new GOP support for the revised plan.

Freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) says Reid has given him a commitment that his amendment, which would allow troops to stay at home for as long they are deployed in Iraq, would be among the first considered next week. It failed 56-41 in July, but probably would now get the vote of Sen. Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE (D-S.D.), who has just returned to Capitol Hill after suffering a life-threatening brain injury in December. Webb said he hoped some Republicans, including Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw McConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (Alaska) and George Voinovich (Ohio), would change tack and support his plan.

“We’re basically trying to protect the well-being of the military and the families,” Webb said.

Discussions continue over whether to allow votes on other Iraq measures, including one by Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-Tenn.) to make the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommendations official policy.

Reid, who has said the measure lacks teeth, has not promised it a vote next week, Salazar said just before setting off on his third trip to Iraq. Salazar said he was discussing “firming language” in the bill to move U.S. forces away from combat to more limited missions.

Most Republicans are hesitant to legislate beyond what Petraeus has recommended.

“I think this week’s testimony has solidified the Republican base,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), general chairman of the Republican Party. “I don’t think there would be any [GOP] proposals that will be in conflict with what Petraeus is recommending.”

President Bush is expected Thursday to endorse Petraeus’s call to withdraw 30,000 troops from the region and to say he will follow the general’s advice next March.

Republicans in tight reelection races as well as centrists say they plan to go further than Bush. “I think the withdrawal of 30,000 troops is a good first step, but it’s not sufficient,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance MORE (R-Maine), who faces a tough reelection battle next year. “What we need to do is change the mission, and that would allow for a more significant draw-down of our forces.”

Collins has drafted an amendment with Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson to transition forces in Iraq without setting a firm deadline for withdrawal. Nelson said Wednesday he wasn’t sure whether it would come up for a vote next week.