Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Showdown likely on Capitol Hill

WANING SUPPORT Democrats return after a six-week break with more initiatives to reduce President Bush's influence and make Republicans oppose the Iraq War


With daggers drawn for a weakened White House, congressional Democrats return from a short recess this week plotting to further undermine US President George W. Bush's waning political sway.

Even as Bush's signature immigration reform bill was strangled in the Senate last month, Democratic leaders were mapping out new misery for a president beset by rock-bottom poll ratings, the three bloodiest months for US troops in Iraq since the war began in 2003 and a fraying Republican support base.

Nearly half a dozen Republicans senators recently broke ranks with Bush urging him to change course in Iraq.

After a six-week hiatus, Democrats plan a new attack on the unpopular war, and have besieged the White House with subpoenas over simmering legal and constitutional showdowns.

A House of Representatives committee meanwhile is planning on making political hay by probing Bush's decision to commute a two-and-a-half year sentence imposed on former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, over a scandal sparked by the leaking of a CIA spy's identity.

"Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq, but vote the right way, too, so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve," said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.

But it is unclear whether the new Democratic attacks on Iraq will be any more successful than previous ones.

Bush forced the Democrats into a climb-down in June on efforts to insert troop withdrawal guidelines in an emergency war budget.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to introduce a bill within weeks to authorize troop redeployments to start within four months and to be completed by April 1, 2008, a formula Bush has already blocked once with a presidential veto.

Senate Democrats will introduce their own attempts to force Bush to accept troop withdrawal timelines, extend rest periods for troops between deployments and curtail his congressional authorization to wage war.

Senate sources said veteran Senator Robert Byrd, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will frame an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would sunset Bush's authorization to wage war in Iraq in October -- five years after it was granted.

Meanwhile, Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed will propose an amendment that would require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days of becoming law, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Democratic tactics appear designed to fracture the president's firewall of Republican support for his Iraq policy.

Currently, Democrats have attracted only a few Republican anti-war votes and do not have the needed 60-vote Senate super-majority to force Bush's hand.

But his support-base seems to be eroding. Republican Senator Richard Lugar, a reluctant rebel, last month warned the "surge" would not work, and fellow Senator George Voinovich recommended a disengagement.

On Thursday, another key Republican Senator Pete Domenici also called for a change of course, and on Saturday Senators Lamar Alexander and Judd Gregg joined the growing chorus urging a new strategy.

All eyes in the next few weeks will be on Republican John Warner, whose symbolic weight could buckle the Bush support base in the Senate, and give other senators cover to break with the president.

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