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Critics offer resolution against Bush plan for increasing U.S. troops in Iraq
WASHINGTON -- A second Republican signed onto a Senate resolution Wednesday opposing President Bush's 21,500-troop buildup in Iraq, setting a marker for a major clash between the White House and Congress over the unpopular war.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate from Maine, said she would support a nonbinding resolution that would put the Senate on record as saying the U.S. commitment in Iraq can be sustained only with support from the American public and Congress.
Snowe's decision to join the effort came as the White House and GOP leaders struggled to keep Republicans from endorsing the resolution, and raised questions about how many more defections there might be.
"Now is time for the Congress to make its voice heard on a policy that has such significant implications for the nation, the Middle East and the world," Snowe said in a written statement.
Earlier, Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate, joined Democrats at a news conference announcing the resolution.
"I will do everything I can to stop the president's policy as he outlined it Wednesday night," Hagel said. "I think it is dangerously irresponsible."
Even as skeptical Republicans were summoned to private meetings with Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley at the White House, Bush's aides made clear that the Capitol Hill challenge would be met aggressively by the administration.
The resolution does not call for a withdrawal of troops or threaten funding of military operations, as many Democrats have suggested. Instead, the legislation says the United States should transfer responsibility to the Iraqis "under an appropriately expedited timeline," though it is not specific.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, told reporters that she is considering supporting the resolution and said she believed it heads in the right direction.
"I want to make sure it's something I can support," said Snowe, who has been adamantly opposed to the increase in troops.
The group planned to introduce the resolution Wednesday, with a review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 24, one day after Bush delivers his State of the Union address.
Hagel's agreement to help Democrats champion the resolution amounts to a setback to the administration and to Bush, who has argued vehemently that some 21,500 additional U.S. troops are needed to help the Iraqi government calm sectarian violence in Baghdad and Anbar province.
Bush announced on Jan. 10 that he planned to increase the 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq with an additional 21,5000 troops.
The resolutions in Congress seemed likely to be largely symbolic and they would not affect the Pentagon's war budget or challenge the president's authority over U.S. forces. Such votes, however, could be a shot across the bow to Bush.
The resolutions also would help Democrats measure GOP support for more aggressive legislative tactics, such as cutting off funds for the war.
Such a vote puts many Republicans in an uncomfortable position. They will have to decide whether to stay loyal to an unpopular GOP president and risk angering voters disillusioned by the war or buck the party line.
Republicans are crafting alternative proposals, including a House bill introduced by Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, that would vow to protect funding for U.S. troops in combat. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is considering a resolution expressing support for the findings by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said Wednesday she thinks there should be a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq and said she wants "to condition American aid to the Iraqis on their meeting political benchmarks."
"I am opposed to this escalation," she said on NBC's "Today" program. "The Bush administration has frankly failed to put any leverage on this government," said Clinton, considered a likely 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner, although she has not yet entered the race.
Bush has been trying to sell his revised war plan to the public in a series of television interviews. He told PBS's Jim Lehrer in an interview this week that keeping his old policies in place would lead to "a slow failure," but withdrawing from Iraq, as some Democrats and other critics suggest, would result in an "expedited failure."
Several GOP members of Congress have offered only lukewarm endorsements of Bush's plan. Lining up behind Bush in the Senate are Republican stalwarts and a few members who have long backed sending more troops to Iraq, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.