Steve walks warily down the street, with the brim pulled way down low

Another Senate Republican -- this one New Mexico's Pete Domenici -- breaks with the Bush administration on Iraq.

By Alex Koppelman
July 6, 2007 12:20AM (UTC)
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If you didn't get our oh-so-hip Queen (and "Family Guy") reference, the headline of this post is also the first two lines of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Because, well, that's what just happened at a press conference in New Mexico: Republican Sen. Pete Domenici has announced a change in his position on the Iraq war.

What Domenici says is that he now supports, and is a co-sponsor of, a bill that would make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group the official policy of the U.S. That would mean, according to a summary of the bill that Domenici's office sent us, "creat[ing] the conditions that could allow for a drawdown of combat forces by March of 2008 (not a set deadline)" and "Support[ing] the comprehensive set of recommendations of the Iraq Study Group -- from establishing milestones to evaluate Iraqi progress, to engaging in diplomatic discussions with all of Iraq's neighbors." It would also mean that Domenici is breaking from his support of the beleaguered Bush administration's policies on Iraq.


In his statements, Domenici was careful to avoid blaming the administration or U.S. troops for the failures in Iraq, and he instead laid the blame on the Iraqis.

"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," Domenici said in a press release. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

Courtney Sanders, Domenici's deputy press secretary, wouldn't speculate as to how Domenici might vote on future Iraq bills that come before the Senate, but Domenici made it clear in a statement today that he would not "support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops."


Since the beginning of the year, Domenici has been a supporter of the administration's policies, if a lukewarm one. In his previous statements about the surge, Domenici consistently hedged his support. He did, however, consistently vote with the administration on the war.

"When the Iraq Study Group first came out with their recommendations, the senator applauded them and he thought that he agreed with a lot of the recommendations that he had made," Sanders told Salon. "Of course, the senator wanted to give the surge a fair chance to work, but basically it's become clear to him that the current strategy is just not working."

There's potential reason for Domenici's switch on the home front as well. He's up for reelection in 2008, and New Mexico is a purple state; Democrats are almost certainly eyeing his seat as a potential pickup. There has been some speculation that Domenici will retire instead of running again, but even if that is the case, surely the state Republican Party would prefer its incumbent to retire while popular. And Domenici has issues besides just an unpopular war dogging him: The senator has become embroiled in the ongoing scandal about the dismissal of nine former U.S. attorneys, one of whom was New Mexico's David Iglesias. Domenici has previously admitted that he called Iglesias to ask about indictments in a public corruption investigation that could have hurt state Democrats; Iglesias has said he felt pressured by the call, but Domenici denies that was his intent. Domenici also reportedly asked both Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President Bush to fire Iglesias.


Sanders denied that political considerations played any role in Domenici's decision. She did say, though -- as Domenici also said in the press conference -- that New Mexico families who lost loved ones in Iraq and who had once supported the administration's strategy had recently been telling Domenici that they had had changes of heart and wanted troops out as soon as possible, and that Domenici took that into consideration.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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