Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and John Warner (R-Va.) have quietly entered into talks on the possibility of drafting a new bipartisan resolution addressing the Iraq War despite growing pressure from GOP and Democratic leadership to maintain party loyalty in the increasingly partisan debate, sources close to the issue said.
Across the Capitol, divisions remained as House Democratic lawmakers began to mull through details in a proposed $120 billion-plus Iraq War spending bill, although many rank-and-file lawmakers contend that debate over the measure has cooled significantly as it heads to the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
As of Tuesday evening in the Senate it was unclear how formal — or far — the talks between Warner and Nelson had progressed, and spokesmen for both lawmakers declined to comment. However, Warner has said he cannot support the Democrats’ latest Iraq proposal in part because of its hard timeline of withdrawing troops within a year, and Nelson also has expressed reservations with hard benchmarks in the past.
Although the possibility of a new Warner-Nelson bipartisan resolution appeared to catch senior leadership aides in both camps off guard, this is not the first time the two have collaborated on a politically sensitive issue despite expectations of fealty by their leaders.
Warner worked closely with Nelson in crafting his bipartisan anti-“surge” resolution last month, and while events on the ground have made that resolution moot it could provide a basic foundation for their talks. The two lawmakers also played key roles in the formation of the “Gang of 14” in 2005 that helped end the “nuclear” option standoff over President Bush’s judicial nominations.
With Republicans agreeing to move to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) latest Iraq resolution today, a potential Warner-Nelson deal could play a role in either this week’s Iraq debate or the looming fight over the supplemental spending bill.
Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have at least for now abandoned efforts to come to a bipartisan deal on Iraq and have shifted into much more aggressive stances for this week’s debate. Additionally, both leaders for weeks have been stressing the importance of party loyalty in the Iraq debate and have gone to great pains to try to convince the public their respective caucuses are united on their positions.
Both leaders have stepped up their political rhetoric, and aides on both leadership teams have indicated they are expecting a nearly party-line vote on Reid’s resolution, which would force a redeployment of forces in Iraq and put in place new limits on President Bush. A number of Senators, including Warner and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), have indicated that while they may vote today to begin debate, they will oppose the resolution as it stands now.
According to a GOP leadership aide, while Republicans are largely unified in opposition to Reid’s proposal, there remain significant divisions on how to handle it procedurally, with some Members arguing for a straight up-or-down vote on the bill, while others would like to offer alternatives and still other Members hoping to postpone the debate altogether until the supplemental fight.