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With the GOP maintaining a unified front against Democratic efforts to end the Iraq War, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other party leaders are abandoning efforts at crafting a bipartisan deal on the issue and will instead look to directly tie Republicans to the unpopular conflict, senior leadership aides said Friday.
The decision to ratchet up their partisan rhetoric followed Thursday’s announcement of a joint resolution by House and Senate Democrats setting specific dates for a mass redeployment of troops in Iraq and creating new restrictions on the war effort. Reid is expected to bring the resolution to the floor this week following completion of the 9/11 bill, aides said.
According to Democratic leadership aides, Reid, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and other party leaders hope that a more aggressive push to tar vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2008 with the prospect of an open-ended commitment to the war will force enough defections to pass legislation forcing Bush to begin bringing the war to an end.
“If they want to follow Bush over the cliff, that’s fine with us,” one Democratic leadership aide said, adding that Democrats will continue to push the issue between now and the 2008 elections in the hopes of eventually forcing a change in the administration or Congressional Republicans.
Saying Democratic Members “are close to unanimity in both Houses,” Schumer accused Republicans of being torn between “their president who says ‘stay the course,’ and the American people who demand change” and warned that Democrats would use the issue as a bludgeon on Republicans up for reelection next year.
“The heat on these Republican Senators that are up in ’08 is tremendous,” Schumer maintained, adding that “this is a campaign ... we are going to keep at” until Reid has enough GOP defections to pass a bill.
According to leadership aides, Democrats have thus far tried to walk a careful line of criticizing GOP opposition to efforts to end the war while not being so harsh as to alienate potential GOP allies. But over the past several weeks “it’s become evident that Republicans have decided to march in lockstep with the president” and that, at least at this point, a bipartisan solution is unlikely.
As a result, Reid, Schumer and other leaders have decided to pivot to a more confrontational — and partisan — approach starting this week and will attempt to portray opposition to the joint resolution as de facto support for Bush’s war plans.
“They have made a politically perilous decision to stand with the president,” a Democratic aide said, and Reid will attempt to use Bush’s low poll numbers and public concern with the war to pressure Republican Members to break ranks.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, will continue to make the case that Democrats are in disarray on the war and that any efforts to bring about an end to the war amount to a dangerous micromanaging of the war by Congress.