Reid seeks bipartisan opposition to “surge”

The Senate majority leader says it's the best way to force a change in direction in Iraq.

Topics: Iraq war, War Room, Harry Reid, Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.,

Claiming that as few as nine Republican senators are currently in support of George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this afternoon that he hopes to produce a “bipartisan statement” against the “surge” as early as next week.

Reid acknowledged that a number of different opposition proposals are circulating through the Democratic caucus. He described Ted Kennedy’s proposal — legislation that would prevent Bush from spending any money to send more troops to Iraq without further congressional approval — as “an idea” that would get “careful” consideration. He said that Sens. Joe Biden, Carl Levin and Jack Reed are working on another proposal, and Dick Durbin said a few minutes later that he’s working on another, which he would describe only as being “broader” than what Kennedy has proposed.

Reid insisted that the bipartisan statement — he didn’t say what form it would take — would “do more than anything else” to change the direction of the war in Iraq.

The majority leader didn’t say which Republicans might support such a statement. But on the House side, five Republican representatives have just sent a letter to the president urging him not to include “an escalation or ‘surge’” as part of his new Iraq strategy. “As members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have indicated in published reports, even a short-term escalation of the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could create larger problems in the long-term,” Republicans Walter B. Jones, Wayne Gilchrest, Ron Paul, John Duncan and Steven LaTourette write. “It would increase Iraqi dependence on our forces, deplete our strategic reserve and force extended tours of duty for soldiers.”

GOP senators are mostly taking a cautious, “wait and see” approach. John Warner said this afternoon that Democrats and Republicans should both take a “timeout” before expressing opinions on whatever the president’s plan turns out to be — that Bush has taken 90 days to think through the “way forward,” and that Congress should take a similarly methodical approach after Bush’s speech Wednesday night. Warner said that Bush showed a “measure of flexibility” and a willingness to “listen” to Congress about his plan when he met with Republican senators Monday.

Correction: In the clamor of a Capitol hallway, we misheard the majority leader: He didn’t say that as few as nine GOP senators support the president’s plan for a surge, but rather that nine have announced some level of opposition to it. Robert Novak has predicted that Bush will have trouble finding support from more than a dozen GOP senators, and Thad Cochran says that he was the only seemingly supportive senator among the 30 or so Republicans who met with Bush on Monday.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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