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« House Dems, GOPers Take Aim | Blog Home Page | Morning Thoughts: Threatening Retirements »

Warner Scoops Webb

As the Iraq war debate, surrounding the Defense authorization bill, heats up in the Senate, Republicans may have found a way around a particularly thorny issue today.

Senator Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy and one of Senate Democrats' leading voices on the military, was set to reintroduce his measure to specify the amount of time troops must be rotated home between combat deployments. The measure, co-sponsored by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, earned 36 cosponsors in July and got 56 votes for cloture -- including seven Republicans and just four short of the 60 needed to move to final passage.

As Webb and Hagel worked the phones today, reportedly within three votes of the magic 60 mark, both were said to be targeting a number of Republican moderates, including Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Arlen Specter (R-PA).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this weekend that, if the amendment got through, he would ask the President to veto it. The White House is working hard on stopping the language in the Senate, as while the President would likely veto it if it passes, it would be politically unpopular to do so.

Still, Webb hoped to work with Gates, and spoke with him last week, according to Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter, and modified the bill to include a 120-day period before implementation. "I had a personal discussion with Secretary Gates on Wednesday and modified the amendment to address his major concerns. It is an appropriate area for Congress to act, and we stand by the amendment," Webb said.

Faced with an increasingly popular amendment and with just three votes separating the measure from passage, the White House turned to Webb's senior colleague, retiring Virginia Republican John Warner, who this morning introduced the measure not as an amendment to the bill, but as a sense of the Senate resolution, essentially stripping the move of any teeth.

Spokespeople for Warner and Secretary Gates did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Warner was one of the seven Republicans who voted for the Webb Amendment in July. Now, he's scooped his junior colleague and saved the White House some face, as more Republicans will be able to vote for a toothless resolution and the Administration avoids a public, and likely very unpopular, veto.