Recess War Of Words Set on Iraq

Posted March 28, 2007 at 6:53pm

Emboldened by their surprise defeat of GOP efforts to eliminate a tentative withdrawal date from Iraq, Senate Democrats will go on the offensive during next week’s recess, using President Bush’s threats to veto the supplemental spending measure to accuse Congressional Republicans of abandoning their constitutional duties in order to protect an unpopular president.

With lawmakers returning home as early as today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has warned his colleagues that the White House and Congressional Republicans likely will spend much of next week accusing Democrats of abandoning the troops to go on vacation. Republicans are expected to emphasize Bush’s veto threat against the supplemental and will argue that Democrats have wasted time passing a bill designed more as a messaging vehicle rather than a serious piece of legislation.

Anticipating those charges, Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will try to put the public onus on the White House for threatening to veto the bill in the first place.

In a PowerPoint presentation during Democrats’ weekly luncheon Tuesday, Durbin argued that while Democrats should stress the accomplishments of the past three months — ranging from passing a budget resolution to “accountability issues” like the recent hearings on the firings of eight U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department — he also stressed the importance of remaining on the offensive on Iraq.

The presentation laid out several examples of responses lawmakers could use if they are attacked for going home without the military funds being finalized, including: “We have always supported our troops and made sure they have the resources they need;” “We will have offered Republicans opportunities to finish this bill by week’s end. Any delay will be due to Republican obstructionism;” and, “This supplemental also offers our troops something that the Administration and Senate Republicans refuse to give: a plan to change course in Iraq,” according to a copy of the presentation obtained by Roll Call.

Lawmakers also have been asked to participate in at least one “press opportunity on Iraq in their home state” such as press conferences with military families, visits to veterans’ clinics or meeting with their governor and National Guard troops on readiness issues, according to Durbin’s presentation. Durbin also noted that other message “amplification” activities next week will include press events across the country by national security experts and grass-roots anti-war organizations.

Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also previewed message themes aimed explicitly at blaming the White House for any delays during a Tuesday press conference. “We have done our constitutional duty, we have done what the American people want us to do,” Reid said, adding that “the ball is not in our court. Its in [Bush’s] court.”

A senior Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday to expect similar rhetoric from both leaders as well as members of Reid’s Democratic Caucus. “It would be defeatist of us to be debating on the premise that we’re holding up funding for the troops. … If [Bush] vetoes this, its him who’s holding it up,” the aide said.

Democrats also will look to tie Republicans to the veto threat and weave in arguments that Senate Republicans — particularly those up for re-election — are too closely aligned with the White House, a theme that has proven to be a major Achilles’ heel for some Republicans. Democrats have been urged by leadership to argue that “the Senate and the House have done their job and now its up to the president to do his, which is sign the bill,” the aide added.

It appears neither party is planning on spending too much of the recess week talking about the latest firestorm that has taken over Capitol Hill these days — the scandal involving the Justice Department firings of eight U.S. attorneys. The issue has prompted Democrats to initiate subpoenas and seek testimony from senior Justice officials, and — along with a few Republicans — called for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step aside.

A Democratic leadership aide said that while his party will make the prosecutors scandal a part of its overall “accomplishments” message, the issue has not yet risen to the level of public concern in much of the country to be in the forefront of constituents’ minds.

The staffer acknowledged, however, that Republicans aren’t looking to bring the fight home given it has proven to be latest in a series of public relations headaches for the White House. Republican Senators, understanding they face being tied to the administration, also are hoping the issue remains relatively obscure in the minds of their voters, who they believe are more focused on the war and the economy.

“Why would Republicans inject ourselves into this?” the aide asked. “It’s between the Democrats and the White House.”

Instead, GOP Senators will spend the break trying to resurrect some old themes that paid them political dividends in the past. In particular, Republicans will spend the coming days returning to accusations that Democrats are tax-and-spend liberals who are focused on wasteful spending and micromanaging the war at the expense of the troops.

Republican leaders will try to get an early start on their message offensive today, when they roll out what they are dubbing “The Democrats’ Seven for ’07 Agenda.” GOP Senators plan to make mockery of the Democrats’ “100 day” agenda that they dubbed the “Six for ’06” — or the six top priorities for the 110th Congress.

The GOP document will serve as a guidepost for the Republicans in the next week, hoping to point out the flaws in the new Democratic leadership policies, and how they would do better. Republicans will accuse Democrats of passing “the largest tax cut in history, increasing spending on wasteful programs, hamstringing the troops, spending taxpayer dollars on pork-barrel projects, catering to ‘union bosses,’ imposing new burdens on small businesses and promoting government-run health care programs.”

In a letter to fellow GOP Senators this week, Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and John Cornyn (Texas), the Conference chairman and vice chairman respectively, pressed their colleagues to push back against the Democratic majority.

“This is no time to turn back the clock to the failed policies of the past,” Kyl and Cornyn wrote. “We should continue to find opportunities to cooperate whenever possible, but we cannot allow our Democrat colleagues’ true agenda to become law.”

Ryan Loskarn, spokesman for the GOP Conference, said Republicans will effectively counter Democratic attacks at home, while advancing a full-scale offensive that highlights the majority’s attempt to dictate military policy to the commander in chief and potentially put U.S. forces at risk.

“We are going to emphasize that this Democrat leadership chose to politicize funding the troops,” Loskarn said.