Reprieve for Bush as party blocks vote against Iraq troop surge

Resolution’s failure the first setback for Democrats, who vow to pursue issue.

US PRESIDENT George W. Bush has won a brief political respite, with Republicans ganging up in the Senate to block a bipartisan resolution opposing his plans to send more troops to Iraq.

Monday’s move marked the first setback for the Democrats, who now control the chamber. But they have refused to concede defeat and have vowed to pursue the matter.

The intense political bickering in Washington comes amid preparations for a security clampdown in Baghdad to stop the bloodshed engineered by rival militias and insurgents in the Iraqi capital.

The Senate voted 49 to 47 to end debate on the resolution. The vote was 11 short of the 60 needed to go ahead with debate, and the voting went largely along party lines in the chamber.

The measure, which was sponsored by Mr John Warner, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, expressed disagreement over Mr Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional American soldiers to Iraq.

Mr Warner, ironically, voted to block his own resolution in the end as Republicans closed ranks amid pressure from the White House – which worked on swing votes in the party – and key figures such as presidential front runner John McCain.

Majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, maintained that the Republicans had blocked the non-binding resolution from going to a vote because they did not want to embarrass the President.

“What you just saw on the Senate floor was Republicans giving George Bush a green light to escalate the conflict in Iraq,” he said. “The American people do not support escalation.

“Last November, voters made it clear they want a change of course, not more of the same.

“The President must hear from Congress, so he knows he stands in the wrong place, alone.”

The Republicans have charged that the Democrats are being unfair in their accusations.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said he voted to block the measure because he wanted to protest against a decision by the Democrats to bar two other Republican-sponsored Iraq resolutions from being considered.

The first entailed supporting the President’s responsibilities as commander-in-chief under the US Constitution.

The second gave qualified backing to the plan to send more troops to Iraq – provided the Iraqi government was given certain benchmarks to fulfil following the troop deployment.

Ultimately, the main reason for the Republicans’ opposition to the measure was that it would send the “wrong message” to American soldiers on the ground, thus undermining troop morale.

The Democrats had hoped to gain enough Republican votes to pass the resolution in what had been building up as the first major congressional challenge to President Bush over his handling of the war.

Since Congress has the power to curtail military spending, any resolution with sizeable bipartisan support would be viewed as a warning shot.

The Bush administration and its supporters have argued that a critical resolution could encourage enemies of the United States.

For now, the Bush administration appears to have been let off the hook as it welcomed the Senate vote on Monday.

But the Democratic leadership is intent on derailing the Iraq war strategy. Mr Reid made clear that his party would persist in bringing up the resolution again.

He also warned of more clashes in the days and weeks ahead as the Senate turned to other resolutions, such as President Bush’s request for US$100 billion (S$154 billion) more for Iraq.

“You can run, but you cannot hide,” he said.

“We are going to debate Iraq.”

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