So, who's soft on terror now?

A Republican plan backfires, at least for the moment.

Published September 15, 2006 1:42PM (EDT)

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill thought they had it all figured out.

While Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were off equating critics of the Iraq war with Nazi appeasers, while George W. Bush was off scaring everybody about the "decisive ideological struggle" of the 21st century, Bill Frist and his merry band of patriots would use the weeks surrounding the 9/11 anniversary to ram through a collection of measures designed to show their toughness -- and the Democrats' weakness -- on the question of terror.

Well, that was the plan, anyway.

Although nine Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday in favor of John Warner's plan for detainees -- which is to say, against the proposal the White House has set forth -- all the attention is on the way that four Republicans are standing firm against their president. Republicans are "at loggerheads" with Republicans, the Washington Post says. It's an "unexpected collision," the New York Times says.

It's more than just one. And man, is it fun to watch.

Here's Republican Sen. John McCain accusing CIA Director Michael Hayden of "trying to protect his reputation at the risk of America's reputation." There's Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham calling for a hearing into how the White House tried to strong-arm military lawyers into saying they backed Bush's plan. Here's Colin Powell saying that Bush's plan would put our troops at risk. And there's Tony Snow, pushing back by calling Powell "confused," then trying to backtrack by retracting the statement and saying that, yes, he thinks Powell really does want to beat the terrorists.

Want more? Republican Sen. Lincoln "Thanks for the Votes, Now Leave Me Alone" Chafee is standing in the way of John Bolton's confirmation as U.N. ambassador. And it seems possible, at least, that Republican Sens. Larry Craig, John Sununu and Lisa Murkowski will join the Democrats in defeating -- or at least blocking a vote on -- the "deal" the White House worked out with Arlen Specter on warrantless wiretaps.

Where will it all end? Well, we'd like to hear House Majority Leader John Boehner start "wondering" whether Senate Republicans -- and, in particular, veterans like McCain and Warner and Graham -- are "more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people." But we've seen this movie before, and we know how it's going to play out. So has Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who tells the Times: "At the end of the day, they will forget John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner and say it is all about the Democrats holding up President Bush's plan to make America safer."

By Tim Grieve

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

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