Biden’s Iraq plan scores Senate win

The Senate found its first bipartisan consensus on the Iraq war Wednesday, dealing a minor rebuke to the Bush administration and a major boost to the long-shot White House run of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

Two of Biden’s presidential rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.), joined with fellow Democrats to back the political remedy for Iraq that he has promoted for more than a year. Biden’s amendment calling for a decentralized Iraqi government passed 75-23 and won over 26 Republicans, giving the Foreign Relations Committee chairman a shot in the arm as he headed to Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire.

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“We just declared the central animating strategy the president has taken to be mistaken,” Biden said, unable to suppress a grin as he declared his 2008 opponents’ support “nice to see.”

Biden billed his vision of diverse federal regions in Iraq as a strong challenge to President Bush’s war policy, and Democratic leaders who were cool to the plan earlier this year declared Wednesday that the new Congress finally had prodded Bush toward a new approach to Iraq.

But even Biden’s GOP supporters were reluctant to deem his non-binding measure a sign of hope in the endless search for a solution to Iraq that has dominated the Senate since spring.

“It’s an achievement by Congress,” said Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who co-sponsored the plan and helped Biden round up Republican backers. “I would not pronounce it the best we can do.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Overnight Energy: Critics pile on Trump plan to roll back major environmental law | Pick for Interior No. 2 official confirmed | JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic MORE (R-Alaska) also supported Biden, but noted afterward that the non-binding plan would allow the administration to avoid acting on its political prescriptions.

“We did show through this vote that there was consensus on … a recognition that Iraq is, politically, a very diverse country,” Murkowski said. “I don’t know if it demonstrates more beyond that.”

One GOP aide went further, saying that most Republicans decided against opposing Biden’s plan after revisions made clear that it would not force any decisions on Baghdad.

“What is the Iraqi government going to do [in response]? Say, ‘thanks for the input, but we’re fine’?” the aide said. The aide described Republicans’ perspective as: “This doesn’t really do anything, and why not let [Democrats] have it, for practical reasons.”

Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina 6 ways the primary fight is toughening up Democrats for the fall general election Bloomberg called Social Security a 'Ponzi scheme' as mayor MORE (D-Ill.) missed the vote on Biden’s plan as well as a vote on Iran offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), both of which were added to the defense authorization bill. Obama’s office has said he would likely support the Biden language.

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), a dark horse in the Republican presidential race, endorsed Biden’s plan months ago, while his only White House foe in the chamber, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain says Steyer should drop out: 'I hate that guy' Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman MORE (R-Ariz.), also missed the vote.

Democrats continued to offer no clues on whether more options to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq would come to the floor this month. But Warner sent a strong signal, telling reporters that Iraq withdrawal would come up again during the defense appropriations debate.

“I don’t feel, as this bill continues to move forward, that we’ll see any [proposal] reach the 60-vote mark,” Warner said.

The Bush administration previously has opposed a mandate for federalizing the Iraqi government, but the State Department did not comment publicly Wednesday on Biden’s plan.

Meanwhile, every Democratic leader backed Kyl’s amendment on Iraq, which called for Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to be designated a terrorist group. More incendiary language referring to the use of “all instruments of U.S. power in Iraq” to block Iran’s activities was dropped from the amendment, but Biden and Dodd still opposed the language. The amendment passed 76-22.

Clinton supported the Iran amendment, exposing her to continued criticism from anti-war groups active in the Democratic presidential primary.

“It is disturbing for the Senate to be unable and unwilling to do what most Americans want it to do — end the debacle in Iraq,” said Tom Andrews, director of Win Without War and a central member of the Americans Against Escalation in Iraq coalition. “It is outrageous for the Senate to be pushing our nation one step closer to disaster in Iran.”

The Senate will move on to an expanded hate-crimes ban on Thursday, with Republicans seeking to hammer Democrats for using the Pentagon bill as a platform to debate non-defense issues. Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development MORE’s (D-Ill.) bid to add relief for undocumented immigrant students also is likely to come up before final debate on the defense bill concludes next week.

Illustrating Republicans’ frustration with a coming fourth week of debate on the defense bill, a GOP group moved Wednesday afternoon to cut off debate on the legislation. It is unclear when Democrats would set a final vote on that cloture filing, but one could occur as soon as Friday.