WASHINGTON (AP) – Congressional Republicans pushed back yesterday against President Bush’s decision to deploy additional troops in Iraq, some voicing opposition while others called for the administration and Iraqi government to be held accountable.
In the Senate, three GOP lawmakers joined one Democrat in unveiling nonbinding legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan and urging him to “consider all options and alternatives” to the planned increase of 21,500 troops.
In the House, members of the leadership drafted a series of what they called “strategic benchmarks,” and said the White House should submit monthly reports to Congress measuring progress toward meeting them.
The developments occurred on the eve of Bush’s State of the Union address, and as Democrats pointed toward votes in the House and Senate in the next few weeks declaring that the troop increase was “not in the national interest of the United States.”
Republicans have struggled to respond in the two weeks since Bush outlined his new strategy in a speech. Though aware that the war played a role in the GOP defeat in last fall’s elections, most have been unwilling to abandon a president of their own party.
Both the Senate legislation and the action taken by the House Republican leaders were softer than the legislation that majority Democrats intend to place for a vote. But they also represented a more forceful response to the long and deadly war than the GOP offered while it held the majority in Congress.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota in producing the legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan.
“I personally, speaking for myself, have great concern about the American G.I. being thrust into that situation, the origins of which sometimes go back over a thousand years,” Warner said.
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, joined the Republicans.
In the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the party’s leader, said that he supports Bush’s plan and that his backing is not conditional on the president agreeing to meet the standards that lawmakers laid out.
He said he had told the president “that the support is still strong among Republicans but there are a lot of our members who are skeptical that the plan will work” because of doubts that the Iraqi government will follow through on its commitments.
Boehner also released a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging her to appoint a special committee of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to oversee the “implementation and progress of the president’s new strategy for success in Iraq.”
As the majority party, Democrats generally are entitled to more seats on House committees than Republicans, and it is unlikely Pelosi would agree to a different arrangement to monitor the war.
The House Republicans’ suggested “strategic benchmarks” apply largely to the Iraqi government, which has pledged additional troops to quell sectarian fighting and to restrain Shiite militia.
Republicans want the government to be measured on its cooperation with U.S. forces, its ability to purge its security forces of insurgents and their sympathizers and also on its ability to assure that Shiite, Sunni, Kurd and other groups are treated equally.