The talk this summer had been that Congressional Republicans, frustrated by an Iraq war that has now dragged on longer than World War II, were fast approaching their boiling point.
And for good reason: The war cost the G.O.P. both houses of Congress last fall. Can you imagine the electoral fallout if the party doesn’t distance itself from the hated “surge” between now next November?
And yet, the past week has brought two votes, one in the House and one in the Senate, on legislation – which enjoys the backing of robust majorities in public opinion polls – that would force the otherwise unwilling President Bush to begin a troop withdrawal within months and to recast the mission for those few troops that would remain.
But just four House Republicans – out of 201 – voted yes last week, and today all but four Senate Republicans opposed the idea as well. And because they threatened a filibuster, something that can only be cut off with a super-majority of 60 votes, that band of 45 Senate Republicans (plus Joe Lieberman) effectively killed the prospects of any change in war policy until at least September.
By the time this morning’s actual Senate vote rolled around after an all-night session, the tally was no surprise. But the unwillingness of most every Republican to defy the White House is nonetheless puzzling when you consider some of the rhetoric of the past few weeks.
“In my judgment,” Indiana’s Richard Lugar, who voted against the course change legislation today, said two week back, “the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved.”
George Voinovich of Ohio, another no vote today, was quoted earlier this week saying that the Bush administration had “f****** up” the war and forecasting imminent G.O.P. defections: "I have every reason to believe that the fur is going to start to fly, perhaps sooner than what they may have wanted.”
There was also New Mexico’s Pete Domenici, who earlier this month decreed that “we can not continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely” – only to vote for exactly that today. And John Warner of Virginia, who noted just last week that the “whole concept of the surge was to enable the Iraqi government to function. So far, we have not seen that.” Mr. Warner, too, voted to allow the change of course legislation to die by filibuster today.
So what gives?
All sorts of rationales were offered by the 45 Republicans (and Joe Lieberman), from sheer pettiness (Arlen Specter whining that Majority Leader Harry Reid had been rude to him) to sheer delusion (the apparent belief of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman that if you just say “the surge is working” enough times, it actually will work). The most common refrain was that no action should be taken until September, when yet another progress report is to be presented, this time by General David Petraeus.
But forget all that. There are some true believers within the G.O.P. ranks, a few diehards who fundamentally believe this war is worth pursuing at or near the current level for years into the future, but mainstream opinion on the Republican side, as Mr. Voinovich himself has indicated publicly and many others have suggested privately, is much more realistic.
The problem, as Democrats observed with frustration this week, is that most of these Republicans still won’t speak up – let alone take legislative action to back up their sentiments. And even those who do speak out – like Mr. Lugar and Mr. Warner, who both offered a non-binding plan last week designed to encourage the President to change his thinking – steadfastly resist supporting legislation with teeth, like the measure that was killed today.