Republican Senators Harm the Troops and Prolong the War

by Paul Hogarth on September 21, 2007

“The Republicans own this war. If it goes bad, the nation loses and the Republican Party loses disproportionately compared to the Democratic Party.” — Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), after killing a bill to bring troops home.

At least give Senator Graham credit for his candor. On September 19th, Senate Republicans killed a measure to lengthen home leaves from Iraq – after Democrats failed to get 60 votes to cut off debate. Once again, Republicans have tied themselves to an unpopular War because they won’t challenge George Bush, won’t support a timeline to get us out, and won’t support our troops by letting them spend more time with their families before risking their lives again. Two weeks ago, there was a palpable fear that Democrats would cave on a withdrawal date. But now that Republicans have proven – again – that they will not compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that they will keep pressing. It’s the only thing they can do, and even if it doesn’t end the War right away – it will turn up the heat on Republicans as 2008 gets closer.

“I think they’ve decided definitely they want this to be the Senate Republicans’ war, not just Bush’s,” said Reid, as he explained why Democrats will not compromise on a withdrawal date after all. “They’re jealous.”

It certainly seems that way. Only six Senate Republicans joined all 51 Democrats (except Joe Lieberman) to pass a minor amendment by Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) that does not de-fund the War, does not create a timeline for withdrawal – and simply says we can’t keep sending our troops back to Iraq when they just returned.

Four of the six Republicans who voted “yes” represent states that voted for Kerry, and are nervously up for re-election next year. They voted for it because they have to – but it’s clear that the Republican Party as a whole is about obstructionism and war without end.

Take a look at the following chart – originally published by McClatchy Newspapers – that tracks the history of Senate filibusters. As of July 18th, the Senate Republicans requested cloture votes 42 times since January. If they continue at the same rate for the rest of the session, they will have shattered all past records.

Two years ago, the Republican Senate majority tried to kill the filibuster because the Democratic minority was being “obstructionist” in blocking a slew of right-wing court appointees. Now that the tables have turned and they are in the minority, Republicans are all too eager to play this parliamentary maneuver to support a War without end.

But Republican hypocrisy is nothing new. The real story here is how the Democratic majority, cowed for so long by the right-wing noise machine, came close to capitulating before standing firm. As Congress returned from its August recess to hear General Petraeus’ testimony, Democratic leaders openly said they would continue funding the War – even if Bush and the Republicans refuse to an actual deadline to get out.

Things began to change, however, as the netroots put pressure on the Democratic presidential candidates – whose bully pulpit gave them the power to persuade their colleagues in Congress to stand firm. John Edwards was there from the start, but enough pressure finally got Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to play an active role.

General Petraeus’ testimony – which the Beltway media laughingly called a “turning point” – did nothing to change public opinion, and in the end Democrats felt emboldened to hold their ground. The teeth-gnashing over MoveOn’s ad in the New York Times called “General Betray Us” simply proved how desperate Republicans are at pursuing an utterly doomed strategy.

Senator Lindsey Graham’s statement, mentioned in yesterday’s New York Times, was only slightly inaccurate. It’s not that “if the war goes bad” – the war has already gone bad. And Republicans have lost and will lose big time as the war continues to get worse, because Graham finally admitted that it is no longer just George Bush’s war.

Democrats are expected to pick up at least four Senate seats, and a G.O.P. pollster who requested anonymity said that the only safe Republican seats are the ones not up in 2008. Lindsey Graham – as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – will both face the voters next year, and despite being from the South there is an outside chance that they could lose. McConnell’s approval ratings in Kentucky are already in the danger zone.

The only way that Democrats could screw this up is if they back off and let Republicans control the debate. But the recent grass-roots effort to get Democrats to stand firm should serve as a model for holding them accountable in the next few weeks – as Bush inevitably asks for even more money for the War, and refuses to allow any deadlines for getting out.

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