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Top Democrats call for GI withdrawal deadline

/ Source: The Associated Press

Two potential 2008 presidential candidates appealed Tuesday for the Senate to support their call to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq “by a hard and fast deadline,” a position putting them at odds with most of their fellow Democrats.

“Our country desperately needs a new vision for strengthening our national security, and it starts by redeploying U.S. forces out of Iraq,” Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin wrote in an e-mail sent to 3 million people nationwide.

“It’s time for every member of the Senate to send an important message that we must change course,” the senators wrote, imploring recipients to “take a stand against the senseless ‘stay the course’ Bush policy” and tell their senators to vote with the two Democrats.

In what promises to be a highly partisan election-year showdown Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Senate plans to take up the proposal by Kerry and Feingold that would require the Bush administration to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007. Redeployment would begin immediately, under the proposal.

At least six other Democrats have publicly or privately indicated support for that position in recent days. The Senate will vote on the proposal by week’s end.

Considering ‘phased redeployment’
The Senate also will consider, and eventually vote on, a separate nonbinding resolution that has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and, his aides say, a majority of Democrats.

It would call for — but not require — the administration to begin “a phased redeployment of U.S. forces” this year, and would not set a firm deadline by which time all forces must be out of the war zone.

Seeking support, Democratic sponsors of both proposals pitched their positions during the party’s weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday. However, neither proposal is expected to win enough votes to be attached as an amendment to an annual military measure pending in the Senate.

Both proposals, nonetheless, are drawing ridicule from Republicans, who lumped Democrats into two groups — what they called the “cut and run” crowd backing the Kerry-Feingold position and the “cut and jog” folks supporting the other proposal.

“We cannot retreat. We cannot surrender. We cannot go wobbly. The price is far too high,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday, suggesting Democrats want to do just that.

‘Not a cut-and-run strategy’
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, disputed the GOP characterization of the resolution that would call for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq this year.

“It’s not a cut-and-run strategy. It does not set a fixed timetable or an arbitrary deadline for the redeployment of our troops,” he said. “We believe it represents where a majority of our caucus is.”

With midterm elections less than five months away, Republicans are working to highlight divisions in the Democratic Party on Iraq as they seek to hang onto control of the House and Senate when polls show the public favoring a power shift to Democrats.

A week ago, the GOP-controlled Senate and House engineered back-to-back votes on Iraq that forced lawmakers in both parties to go on record on the war that polls show most Americans no longer support amid a rising U.S. death toll and a soaring price tag. In the end, both chambers of Congress soundly rejected timetables for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.

‘A date certain’
Led by Levin, Senate Democrats have spent the past week writing a proposal on Iraq that could get wide support among their rank and file. At the same time, Kerry and Feingold announced they would press their own separate proposals calling for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

A somewhat curious pairing, the two joined forces — and offered one amendment — after failing in private meetings to convince fellow Democrats that the so-called “consensus” proposal should include what they call “a date certain” for all U.S. forces to have left Iraq.

Feingold first proposed withdrawing from Iraq in a speech last summer, but his position has been overshadowed by Kerry, who has a stronger national profile because of his status as the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

Both are positioning for possible presidential runs in 2008, and their positions on Iraq play well with the liberal wing of the party — the Democratic faithful who will vote for the next Democratic presidential nominee.