WASHINGTON—If President Bush is determined to win over Congress to the idea of keeping more American troops in Iraq, his chances looked dim Wednesday night.
But even as the new Democratic majority and some of the president's fellow Republicans expressed doubts or rejected the notion outright, they had yet to coalesce behind binding legislation to stop him.
Instead, lawmakers will hold hearings Thursday and in ensuing weeks to analyze the plan, and Democrats are scheduling votes on nonbinding resolutions that would force members of both parties to go on record supporting or opposing Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq.
The Senate could begin debating resolutions as early as next week; House of Representatives leaders were more vague on the timing.
"We will give his proposal a fair hearing, and in our hearings, we will establish the ground truth of what is happening in Iraq, and then we will vote on the president's proposal," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who opposes Bush's buildup.
Early opposition from Democrats was sharp.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the head of the Out-of-Iraq Caucus, said Bush's plan was futile and would only put more U.S. troops in harm's way. "We cannot undo the harm we have created" in Iraq, she said.
Republican leaders were generally supportive.
"It is our best shot at victory in Iraq, and I think that's what the American people want and expect," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the plan "courageous and correct." He also said Democrats should be prepared for "considerable debate" on any legislation that they tried to bring to the floor, suggesting that the minority may delay votes.
But the president now faces critics in his own party as well.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who was traveling in Iraq, said Wednesday, "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer. Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., delivered a speech on the Senate floor opposing a troop increase. "I refuse to put more American lives on the line in Baghdad without being assured that the Iraqis themselves are willing to do what they need to do to end the violence of Iraqi against Iraqi," he said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she could support more American troops in Anbar province, the hotbed of the Sunni Muslim insurgency, but not in Baghdad, where "it's clear the violence is entirely sectarian."
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he'd wait until Thursday to issue a detailed response. But he floated the idea of Republican critics rallying around a resolution endorsing the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. That bipartisan panel backed a goal of bringing most U.S. troops home by early 2008.
Warner said that while he wanted to support President Bush and show him respect, ultimately "I support what's in the best interests of this country."
In the House, eight Republicans sent Bush a letter warning him that adding troops would make matters in Iraq worse. They said there was no evidence that more American forces could stop the sectarian violence, and that an increase would deepen Iraqi dependence on the United States, reduce the number of American troops poised to respond to other crises around the world and give al-Qaida more recruiting power.
The eight were Reps. Walter B. Jones and Howard Coble of North Carolina, Ron Paul of Texas, Wayne Gilchrest and Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, John Duncan of Tennessee, Phil English of Pennsylvania and Steven LaTourette of Ohio.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that measuring the depth of opposition to Bush's plan had to be the first step, "and then after that we will decide what further actions to take."
All options will be considered, he said, including restrictions on funding.
Democrats have floated several ideas about how to block a troop increase.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has called for a vote requiring the president to win congressional authorization for any more troops in Iraq. He said it wouldn't cut off money for troops who already were in Iraq or were on the way there. American troop levels might already be up in Iraq by the time his legislation passed, but "I can't do anything about that," he said.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said an amendment to the supplemental budget for the Iraq war could be used to oppose an increase in troops but that it wasn't clear whether such a measure would get enough Republican support to meet the 60-vote threshold that's needed to end debate in the Senate, where Democrats have a 51-49 majority.
Reed also acknowledged that the deployment could be well under way before the Senate votes on the supplemental budget for the Iraq war in several months.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a top defense appropriator, has suggested that there are legislative means to curb the president without hurting the troops. But as of Wednesday night, Democratic leaders had yet to endorse any such plans.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.