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GOP Moderates Nervous on Iraq

Support for Bush Starts to Slip

Cracks are starting to show in the near-monolithic Republican support for the Iraq War, with President Bush’s critics hoping that the trickle of opposition will swell into a flood later this year.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), a moderate appropriator who had been agonizing about her vote on the Iraq War supplemental for weeks, decided last week that she could no longer toe the party line.

Emerson has been increasingly unhappy with the conduct of the war, but at the same time didn’t want to support a bill she considered to be a partisan political document. So last Wednesday night, she voted “present.”

“I cannot abide the way this war is being conducted, but neither can I lend my support to a measure that politicizes the men and women in uniform so bravely serving our country,” Emerson said in a statement.

After posting the orange vote on the board, she sat next to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), one of two Republicans to vote for the measure, for about 10 minutes. Gilchrest said the two had been talking for weeks about the war, along with a small but growing circle of disconcerted Republicans.

“She is reading ‘Fiasco,’ which I think should be required reading for every Republican,” Gilchrest said, referring to the book by Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks.

“It came out a year ago, but people only now are reading it,” Gilchrest said.

Gilchrest, a soft-spoken, decorated Vietnam War veteran, said that as more information gets out about the war, from books such as “Fiasco” and former CIA Director George Tenet’s new book, “At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA,” which is being released today, more Republicans will want new answers beyond simply supporting Bush.

Although the party has been remarkably cohesive in opposing the Democratic drive for a timeline for withdrawal, that doesn’t mean they are willing to go along indefinitely.

Gilchrest predicted that unless the situation on the ground improves significantly in the next few months, the number of Republicans like Emerson willing to stray from the party line will grow significantly.

“They are going to start popping off,” he said. “I think by midsummer we could see that happening, breaking the logjam.”

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said last week that he was not concerned in the short term about a party split on the war but acknowledged that results on the ground need to improve. And in a sign that Republicans also are restless to see changes, Blunt and other Republicans could support binding benchmarks on the Iraqi government tied to a “consequences package,” so long as it would not put restrictions on the military.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a leading moderate, said many Republicans are looking for a way out of Iraq, and he hopes that the Democrats will work with them after Bush likely vetoes the $124 billion war supplemental this week.

“I think a lot of us feel that the time has come for us to look for solutions to bring this war to a close,” Castle said. “And I don’t think that’s just a feeling among moderate Republicans but among Republicans in general.”

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