Democrats to use Petraeus’s comments to woo Republicans

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy 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.

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 ReidCortez Masto says she's not interested in being Biden VP Nevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil 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 ReedBipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up Overnight Defense: Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty | Pentagon drops ban on recruits who had virus | FBI says Corpus Christi shooting terror-related 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 JohnsonCornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan 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 MurkowskiOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas 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 AlexanderSenate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO Trump: US 'terminating' relationship with WHO Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet 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 CollinsDemocrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities 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.