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Are Democrats Kidding that Iraq Vote Was 'Bipartisan'?

By Stuart Rothenberg

Moments after the House voted against President Bush's additional deployment of troops to Iraq - the so-called surge, if you are for it or trying to be neutral, or the so-called escalation, if you are opposed to it - House Democrats sent out a flurry of e-mails crowing about the "bipartisan" support for it.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel's release was titled, "Emanuel Statement on Bipartisan Approval of Iraq Resolution," while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's was headlined an only slightly different, "Bipartisan Majority in U.S. House Votes Against the President's Plan to Escalate the War in Iraq."

On the House floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, staying true to her party's talking points, also referred to the resolution as "bipartisan."

In fact, support for the Iraq resolution was bipartisan only in the technical sense that the vote on the resolution was not completely along party lines. But it was awfully close to that, and referring to the final vote as bipartisan has more to do with Democratic strategy and nervousness than reality.

Only 17 Republicans - or 8.4% of GOP House members - joined 225 Democrats in voting for the resolution, while over 90% of Republicans opposed passage of the resolution. Republicans constituted just 7% of the 242 House members who supported the resolution. Only two House Democrats voted with 185 Republicans against the resolution.

Democrats had enough votes to pass the resolution without any GOP support, and given national polls showing widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush policy, just 17 Republican votes for the resolution is stunningly small, and little or no indication of a bipartisan consensus.

Clearly, the vote on the resolution was very much partisan, though with a handful of defections. We can argue over what would constitute a truly bipartisan vote, but 92% of Republicans voting against something and 99% of Democrats voting for it surely doesn't come close to passing the threshold. By insisting, whether in a press release, in statements on the floor or in interviews after the fact, that the vote was bipartisan, Democratic leaders look silly.

But if the vote was overwhelmingly partisan, why don't Democrats just say so? What's the big deal?

The likely answer is that Democrats are trying so hard to avoid allowing Republicans to label their criticism as merely partisan that they won't even acknowledge the obvious. Instead, they are looking for any opportunity to portray their opposition to the President's policies as part of the nation's dissatisfaction with the administration's Iraq policy.

While that's understandable - one of the few ways Democrats could screw up during the next year and a half would be to appear to be basing their opposition on possible political gain and a petty desire to punish Bush politically - there is no indication that Democrats have been too aggressive in criticizing the President or his policies so far.

In fact, a partisan division over the war probably would help Democrats by further damaging the Republicans between now and next year's Presidential election. After all, if it isn't merely President Bush, but also his entire party, that supports the war and ignores public opinion, Democrats would seem to benefit.

Obviously there are a handful of high profile Republicans who have opposed the Bush policy in Iraq for a considerable time - most notably Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska in the Senate and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina in the House - and a number of GOP members of Congress have over the past couple of months sounded increasingly critical of Bush policies.

But the House vote demonstrates that Republicans still have not left the President's ship, even though it clearly seems to be sinking, and Democrats ought not be so wedded to their talking points' emphasis on bipartisan opposition to the war that they refer to a "bipartisan resolution" that clearly was nothing of the sort.

Stuart Rothenberg is the editor of the The Rothenberg Political Report, and a regular columnist for Roll Call Newspaper. © 2007 Roll Call, Inc.

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