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Senate Democrats promise `relentless' flood of anti-war legislation

Margaret Talev
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - After Republicans blocked a Senate debate for a second time, Democrats said Saturday they'll drop efforts to pass a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq and instead will offer a flurry of anti-war legislation "just like in the days of Vietnam."

The tough talk came a day after the House of Representatives passed its own anti-Iraq resolution and as the GOP used a procedural vote to stop the Senate from taking a position on the 21,500 troop increase.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would be "relentless."

"There will be resolution after resolution, amendment after amendment . . . just like in the days of Vietnam," Schumer said. "The pressure will mount, the president will find he has no strategy, he will have to change his strategy and the vast majority of our troops will be taken out of harm's way and come home."

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: "We're going to move on to other things."

But with Democrats divided over whether to restrict funds for the Iraq war, and with the Senate unlikely to have the votes right now to buck President Bush, the immediate success of the Democrats' plan seems difficult. Reid also declined to say exactly what the strategy might include.

Saturday's rare weekend vote was a political calculation by the Democratic majority, who delayed the start of a weeklong legislative recess to make it happen and called back senators who had left town.

Democrats had hoped that if enough Senate Republicans felt pressured by the House vote and with national polling showing support for the resolution, they might let a debate go ahead this time. If not, Democrats would have more ammunition to criticize Republicans for backing an unpopular war.

Saturday's 56-to-34 vote fell short of the 60-vote majority the Senate requires to move to debate. But this time, seven Republicans joined Democrats in favoring a debate, five more than in the earlier vote.

Republicans who voted against debating the resolution maintained in both instances that they were objecting to Reid's refusal to consider a different resolution supporting the troops but taking no position on sending more to Baghdad. Reid says that resolution is intended to muddy the debate.

Republicans Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John Warner of Virginia, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sided with Democrats in calling for debate to begin, as did the two Republicans already on board, Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joined the 33 Republicans to block the vote.

"I am not running from a vote," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky: "Republicans in the Senate have not prevented any debate. What we have prevented is the majority leader dictating to the minority exactly what resolutions we will vote on."

But several Republicans said Saturday the Iraq debate was too important to hold off any longer.

"If we continue to debate whether there should be a debate while the House of Representatives acts, the Senate will become irrelevant," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "To paraphrase the Roman adage, the Senate should not fiddle while Iraq burns."

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this week found 63 percent of Americans oppose the troop increase, but at the same time 60 percent oppose cutting funding for those troops.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Democrats, "You want to be seen in history, I guess, or for the next election that `this wasn't my idea, this was Bush's folly.'

"If you believe half of what you're saying in these resolutions then have the courage of your convictions to stop this war by cutting off funding. But no one wants to do that because they don't really know how that's going to play out here at home."

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