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Counting Senate Votes On Iraq... 56... 57... 60... 67....

[ Posted Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 – 03:40 UTC ]

For the past week or so, trying to figure out what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to do next on the Iraq debate has been harder than predicting a hummingbird's flight plan. Today's story is that he has given up on extending a hand across the aisle to Republicans, and will now bring up only bills with hard deadlines. "It's all definite timelines," Reid is quoted as saying. Or maybe it's that he's going to delay the debate until November. Time will tell, I guess. It should properly be seen as all rumor, speculation, and backroom deals -- until we get to an actual floor debate.

The strongest contender of a bill from Democrats was originally proposed in the House by Representative Jack Murtha quite a while ago, and is now known as the "Webb amendment" in the Senate (for Senator Jim Webb). It mandates the same amount of recuperation time at home for soldiers who have spent that time in Iraq; and would likely put the Pentagon (and President Bush) in a bind -- effectively forcing them to remove troops from Iraq faster than they are planning. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently came out against the idea, but Democrats are working on the language (in one of those backrooms) in an attempt to mollify Gates.

Of course, John McCain has predictably gone ballistic on the issue (he is, after all, running for president). But his strawman argument on the issue needs to be shot down immediately by Democrats. He is currently loudly proclaiming (to any media who will still listen) that the Webb amendment is "unconstitutional" and is "micromanaging" the Pentagon. I don't know what copy of the Constitution he's reading from, but whenever Republicans brandish the phrase: "the President is Commander-in-Chief, I know this because the Constitution tells me so;" Democrats need to quickly and forcefully refute it with the following:

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates the powers given to Congress. Allow me to quote from this first article of our Constitution:

"The Congress shall have power to ... declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces...."

Now doesn't that sound to you like the Founding Fathers intended the Congress -- and not the President -- to have the power over our military not just to define the rules of battle engagement, but also to "make rules for the government and regulation" of the military? It's right there in plain English, and I suggest that Senator McCain needs to brush up on his Constitution -- because he is just flat wrong on this issue. What he calls "micromanagement," I call instead: "our sacred Constitutional duty in Congress."

I'd personally love to hear Senator Webb say that in front of a television camera. With feeling. Or perhaps even Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island, since he did such a decent job of the Democratic response to Bush's speech last week.

McCain's histrionics aside, however, there are a lot of very nervous Republicans in Congress these days -- Petraeus report or no Petraeus report. Moderate Republicans (yes, they still do exist, but they are a seriously endangered species, it should be noted) have no good options, at this point. They can double-down on a bad bet (the "surge" is going to make everything wonderful by election day next year) by continuing to vote the way Bush wants them to. Or they can face the reality that they're just not going to get re-elected that way, and start voting with the Democrats. And Iraq's just the biggest of their problems, as Bush is girding his loins for an epic veto showdown on just about every budget bill Congress is about to pass (some of which contain ideas extremely popular with the voting public, like more health insurance for children).

This opens up a giant wedge for Democrats to divide and conquer among the GOP, primarily centered in two geographic regions which used to be bastions of support for "fiscally conservative, socially liberal/libertarian" Republicans (i.e., the Northeast and the West). These sensible moderates are essentially being driven out of their own Republican Party. And they face serious challenges from Democrats in almost every state they're running in. Which means they're not just nervous, they're absolutely petrified about their prospects in next year's election.

Republican Representative Jim Ramstad of Minnesota sums it up best: "We are at a very significant juncture. I'd use a metaphor, but it can't be printed -- something about something hitting the fan."

[Editorial note: Now, see, Jim, if you had given me that quote, I could have printed it uncensored on the web! I mean, I'm just saying....]

Ahem. Where was I?

Speaking of hilarious quotes from that Washington Post article, here's a knee-slapping whopper from GOP Representative Mike Pence from Indiana: "To be candid, Republicans think less in terms of fealty to the president than loyalty to principle."

Hoo boy. What has he been smoking? Congressional Republicans don't vote in lockstep with Bush? That's news to me....

And this doesn't even touch upon the Republicans' slow suicide pact of proving (without a shadow of a doubt) that Kanye West was right, and they just don't care about minorities. This may doom the GOP to an entire generation in the wilderness of the minority, until someone strong-willed enough can cause a course-correction within the party. You have to remember that immigrants don't come from an American cultural background -- which means they have attention spans longer than the average hyperactive two-year old. They remember things.

Just ask former California governor Pete Wilson -- he did win an election by immigrant-bashing, to be sure. But California has been a solidly Democratic state ever since (except for Governator Schwarzenegger -- whom we all consider an aberration in more ways than one); and California will continue to be reliably "blue" in national politics for the foreseeable future. The moral of this story is: Scoring cheap political points by scapegoating immigrants may work in the short term, but it is absolutely poisonously fatal for your party in the long run.

But back to the immediate future, and the upcoming Iraq votes in the Senate. We start with several numbers: 49-2-49 and 56-41. The first is either a woman with an extremely skinny waist, or it refers to the current makeup of the Senate. There are 49 Democrats, 1 Independent, 1 Whatever-The-Heck-Lieberman's-Calling-Himself-This-Week, and 49 Republicans in the Senate. This is an improvement by one vote for the Democrats -- because South Dakota's Senator Tim Johnson is now healthily back and serving in the Senate once again (he has now recovered from his cranial operation -- welcome back, Senator Johnson!). When you parse it all out (Senator Sanders from Vermont -- the other Independent -- is a reliable Democratic vote on Iraq, and most everything else), it comes down to 50-50 on the subject of Iraq.

Quick math review: Democrats need 60 votes to move anything off the Senate floor, and onto Bush's desk. And 67 votes to overturn the expected veto.

But for now, on to that second number I cited above. Predicting things on the Webb amendment is actually pretty easy, since this is the measure that got the highest number of votes last spring in the Senate during the Iraq debates. The vote then was 56-41. This meant the Democrats "lost" since they didn't have the 60 votes to move it past a Republican filibuster, but it is still the highest vote total the Democrats got on any legislation to end the Iraq war (so far) this year. The following Republicans voted with the Democrats: Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Gordon Smith (OR), John Warner (VA), Chuck Hagel (NE), Norm Coleman (MN), and John Sununu (NH). Strangely enough, six out of seven of those are up for re-election next year (perhaps ol' Norm's getting nervous about Al Franken's candidacy?).

In the "good news" department -- South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is now back in action. That gives Democrats another solid vote on Iraq. Which means they only need pick up three more, in order to put something on Bush's desk. OK, it still will need seven more votes after that to overturn a veto -- but hey, one step at a time.

There are four names being floated as candidates for further GOP aisle-crossing on Iraq. These are (to date): Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, George Voinovich from Ohio, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, and (a surprise to me) Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina.

I strongly urge anyone who lives in these four states (who also wants to end the Iraq war) to contact your senator today and let them know they have constituents who will support their actions if they vote with the Democrats.

I also have three long-shot names who might conceivably be convinced to do so as well. They are: Robert Bennett from Utah, Judd Gregg from New Hampshire, and Pete Domenici from New Mexico. I entreat any anti-war people living in those states to also contact your senator -- right now! -- and let them know how you feel.

Out of those seven, Democrats only need three more cross-aisle votes to put the issue on Bush's desk. To override his veto, we'd need each and every one of them, plus three more -- a seeming impossibility at this point. But if Elizabeth Dole can change her mind, perhaps other Republicans can also be convinced. Especially after they've done some polling on the issue in their state.

We've got nothing left to lose at this point. Except pointless more American military lives sacrificed to "the Bush legacy." And that would be a shame indeed.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


7 Comments on “Counting Senate Votes On Iraq... 56... 57... 60... 67....”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    First off, I don't see the GOP against immigrants per se...

    I see the GOP against ILLEGAL immigrants.. That's a distinction that the Left always seem to overlook.. Intentionally?? Maybe..

    Again, I refer to one of the most hilarious quotes in the immigration mess. Of course, it was made by a Democrat..

    "By and large, illegal immigrants obey the law..."

    Say what!!???

    That's like saying, "By and large, murderers don't hurt people."

    As to your misreading of the Constitution..

    "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces…."

    This has, historically, been accepted as to mean that the US Congress has the authority to make the laws and the regulations that govern the Armed Forces in general.

    It is NOT applicable in the sense that it allows Congress to take over tactical and strategic decisions.

    In essence, your interpretation would have Congress running our Armed Forces.. Can you imagine how that would completely gut our military ability??

    I have said it before and I will say it again. You simply CANNOT prosecute a war by committee..

    If I read the Webb Amendment correctly, it is trying to push thru this military relief for this particular action only. And that is NOT within the purview of Congress. It simply is not, no matter how the Left wishes it were..

    Now, if the Webb Amendment would actually be couched in the form of changing the entire directives of the US Armed Forces and not be IRAQ specific, then it MIGHT be legal..

    But, as it stands, it's a directive on Iraq. It's not part of the "administration or regulation" of the US Armed Forces and is therefore not within the purview of the US Congress...


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    And, just let me add...

    >I strongly urge anyone who lives in
    >these four states (who also wants to
    >end the Iraq war)

    I would think that everyone WANTS to "end the Iraq war"..

    The only point of contention is HOW we want to end it.

    Do we want to end it (as the Democrats do) with the US in GREATER danger and where all that have died, have died for nothing??

    Or do we want to end it with the US being SAFER and more secure and Iraq in the hands of a government that can provide security and stability to Iraq and to the Middle East?

    THAT is the point of contention..

    It's not that people don't want to end the war. Both the GOP and the Dems want to END the war...

    It's just that the GOP wants to END the war by winning...

    The Dems want to end the war by losing..


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    You know I am not one to quote polls.. The only thing that Polls show is

    A> The bias of the Poll Takers


    2> That polls are useless

    A perfect case in point..

    According to the latest Zogby Poll, President Bush's approval rating is almost THREE TIMES that of the Democrat Controlled Congress...

    What makes this so ironic is that those of the Left who swear by polls will, of course, discount this poll because it doesn't help them in their hysterical Bush bashing..

    That's why I say that Polls are only good to show the biases of those who swear by them. Or in this case, lack thereof...


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Senate Rejects Bill to Regulate How Long Troops Spend in Combat,2933,297387,00.html

    Some excerpts:
    Failure of the bill was a sound defeat for Democrats, who have been unable to pass significant anti-war legislation by a veto-proof majority since taking control of Congress in January. Webb's measure was seen as having the best chance at attracting the 60 votes needed to pass because of its pro-military premise.

    But momentum behind the bill stalled Wednesday after Sen. John Warner, R-Va., announced he decided the consequences would be disastrous. Warner, a former longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had voted in favor of the measure in July but said he changed his mind after talking to senior military officials.

    Without more Republican support, Democrats are unlikely to pass other war-related measures.

    As I said, the bill is unconstitutional as written...


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Apologies to all for monopolizing this commentary..

    But have ya'all noticed something weird??

    Despite the majority that the Democrats enjoy in both the House and the Senate and despite the overwhelming majority of Americans who (allegedly) are against the Iraq War in particular and the GOP in general.....

    Despite all this, the Democrats are constantly on the defensive. The Democratic Party just cannot seem to be able to muster the courage and fortitude to actually make a difference when it comes to the PR campaign.. No matter how badly the GOP screws up, the Democratic Party always looks worse...

    And the Left cannot blame it on the evil maniacal and diabolical political genius of Karl Rove either..

    So, the only thing left to ponder is.... WHY???

    Why can't the Democrats mount a single PR blitz that will put them on top where, ostensibly, the Majority Party ought to be??

    I have my own theories....

    What's ya'alls???


  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I'm not going to answer all your posts point-by-point. Hey, it was unfettered optimism on my part to write the column, and the Dems lost, so there's not a lot more to say about it. I actually don't know the answer to whether it was a blanket "all troops in combat" or whether it said "all troops currently serving in Iraq and Iran."

    But your last point, I fully agree with. Dems aren't great on PR. Maybe that's Reid and Pelosi's fault, I don't know. I will say (in tomorrow's column as well) that they were doing a heck of a lot better job of it last weekend on the Sunday shows than the previous week. They had John Kerry with John McCain on Meet The Press, which was forcefully argued on both sides (seriously, go see a transcript, it was one of the more intelligent debates on basic positions on Iraq and the Big Picture that I've heard yet -- from both sides). They had Carl Levin on Face the Nation, and they had Joe Biden on Fox News Sunday. I didn't catch ABC or any of the cable shows, but from the sampling I saw, I was much more impressed than the previous week. Which raises my hopes for this week a bit.

    But I'm curious, you say "I have my own theories" -- so what are they? Why DO you think the Dems are so weak on basic PR and "staying on message"??


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    I have 2 "conspiracy theories" which I have hinted at before..

    First, the Democrats in Congress have secret information not available to us peons, that indicates the course the GOP has set in Iraq, specifically, and the War On Terror in general is the correct course of action. And the Democrats are just playing lip service to "opposing" it to appease their base..

    This is believable, in part, because I don't think that ANY PARTY could be this politically inept and incompetent.

    The second theory is that the Democratic Party is "throwing the game" so to give the GOP enough rope to hang themselves.. But that could very well backfire. As we saw with the Petraeus/Surge debacle (debacle for the Dems, that is) the GOP might just take that rope and make dozens and dozens of lifelines...

    So, take your pick... I, for one, don't believe that things are as they appear. Because no matter how you slice it or what part of the political spectrum you are looking at things from, the Dems are getting their asses kicked all over DC.. It almost makes you think that the Dems are going for the sympathy/victim vote..

    But, invoking Occams Razor brings us to this explanation. The very nature of the Democratic Party platform is NOT conducive to consensus.. Liberal ideals celebrate and encourage diversity. Non conformity is the rule, rather than the exception. Therefore, the Democrats cannot stay on a single message because it is not in their nature (as Democrats) to HAVE a "single" message..

    The downside for them is that, in today's political arena, it is important, no.. VITAL... to have a single message that you can rally the people behind. Our society has become to "BRAND" conscious that we need "talking points"... We, as a society, have to have things scaled down to sizable and understandable chunks because, if we try to understand the enormity of the "big picture", we just get depressed..

    Sadly for the Democratic Party, the GOP functions as a single "military" unit. Cohesive, dedicated and uniform. The Democratic Party functions as a bunch of little bureaucracies, each other fighting with each other one over the validity of their little fiefdom. Or, a more apt analogy would be that the Democratic Party is a bunch of different religions trying to rally under a single banner..

    And, ultimately, they will fail. Because, to unite under a single banner, the Democratic Party would have to become the very anti-thesis of what makes them the Democratic Party..

    I think we're going to see in 2008 that the GOP will regain control of Congress and retain the White House. Simply because, in time of war, this country NEEDS the type of leadership that (it appears) only the GOP can provide..

    So, take your pick... Conspiracy theories all the way thru the basic and inherent "flaw" in the psy-makeup of the Democratic Party..


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