Lawmakers Find Rare Unity on Iran Policy

Posted October 4, 2009 at 10:42am

Despite deep divisions over domestic policy and how to proceed in Afghanistan, Senate Democrats and Republicans put up a united front Sunday on Iran, calling on the chamber to quickly pass a series of new sanctions against the nation believed to have nuclear weapon-making capabilities.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for a special “Iran week— in the Senate to pass a series of largely bipartisan measures that would give President Barack Obama the power to impose new sanctions and other financial penalties against Iran. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Graham called for a “session in the Senate, maybe a couple or three days, the ‘Iran week’ to pass the tools the president needs … [a] series of measures that would empower the president to get tough.—

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the White House has handled the situation well thus far. “I think so,— he said. “Obviously there’s been some high-level talks … I think the administration understands the seriousness of this.—

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who appeared on Fox with Chambliss, Graham and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), agreed with his GOP colleagues, arguing that “every possible option should be on the table.—

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, agreed that the Senate should quickly agree to new sanctions.

“Putting sticks on the table is exactly the point,— Kyl said.

But Kyl had little praise for the administration’s Afghanistan policies, arguing that the White House should simply follow the recommendations of commanders. “I don’t understand why we’re even having this debate,— he said.

Similarly, Graham warned that if the United States does not increase troop levels soon, it may become too late to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan. “The Taliban is going to win if we don’t change course soon,— he said.

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) also said he supports a deployment of more forces to the region and he believes the House would vote to support such an increase.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation, Skelton said he’s already told Obama to heed the advice of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, on whatever additional troops he believes are necessary. “I’m backing him up,— Skelton said.

But Skelton’s Senate counterpart, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he didn’t believe more U.S. troops are the answer and called for the Afghan army to increase its ranks. Levin urged deliberation over the strategy and asked that the public await the recommendation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Asked if he believed Senate would support sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Levin said that too many questions remain to make any predictions.

“I don’t think anyone can guess in advance,— Levin said.

Bayh, one of the Senate’s more moderate Democrats, said “I would support the increase it that’s what the president decides,— although he cautioned that may not be the case.

Casey also defended the administration’s decision to take a deliberative approach to the troop level question. “I think the president is doing the right thing,— Casey said, adding that “we cannot make the same mistakes our government made in Iraq … [by] putting the resources question ahead of the strategy.—

Meanwhile, on ABC’s This Week, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) defended his party’s approach to health care – rejecting complaints by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and other Republicans that the GOP has been too negative.“We’re for health care reform, but we’re not for a government takeover,— Cornyn said, adding that “a lot of the best ideas we’ve had … have been rejected along party-line votes in the Finance Committee.—

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of Finance and former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, argued that “Sen. Frist and others have a point: 90 percent of the amendments that were filed by my colleagues on the other side were negative … they don’t have a plan.—

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.