WASHINGTON—Friday's milestone vote in the House of Representatives opposing President Bush's troop increase in Iraq will be no cliff-hanger—it's certain to pass—but its potential political consequences have lawmakers grinding their teeth.
The nonbinding resolution could influence lawmakers' re-election prospects, their willingness to back stronger antiwar policies later and how other nations view the United States.
No one feels more pressure over the vote than the lawmakers—mostly Republicans—who won election last November by narrow margins.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., whose 369-vote margin is still being contested, said he had struggled over this vote for weeks as he met with intelligence experts, ambassadors and war veterans. He said he would announce his decision in a speech on the House floor. Whatever he does, he said: "A lot of people want to make this about politics. This shouldn't be about politics."
Republicans in swing districts who don't back the resolution can expect to be attacked in next year's elections. They include Reps. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, Dave Reichert of Washington state, Thelma Drake of Virginia and Robin Hayes of North Carolina. Each barely won re-election last November. This vote could end their careers.
"There are a lot of seats in play," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I think this is going to be a big issue for voters in 2008."
Dozens of Republicans are expected to vote for the Democrats' resolution opposing the 21,500-troop increase. Some of them hail from conservative districts and won re-election last year by wide margins. Others won with 55 percent of the vote or less, including Reps. Ric Keller of Florida, Phil English of Pennsylvania and Tom Davis of Virginia. By crossing party lines, they could build support from independents and Democrats, but they also could court primary challenges.
A few Democrats from conservative districts are similarly torn.
Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., a Vietnam veteran narrowly re-elected, said he had long favored fewer troops in Baghdad but couldn't support a resolution that was "akin to sitting on the sidelines and booing in the middle of our own team's play because we don't like the coach's call."
Bush says the resolution won't change his plans no matter how many Republicans support it.
Once the vote clears, House Democrats intend to shift to binding legislation to limit troop deployments and funding.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the chief House defense appropriator, detailed a plan Thursday that he hopes the full House can vote on by mid-March.
It would prohibit troop deployments in Iraq from being extended beyond a year, require troops to get at least one year home between deployments and require them to be certified as fully trained and equipped before being sent into combat. It also would end the "stop-loss" program that forced some service members to remain on active duty beyond their enlistment periods.
"That stops the surge for all intents and purposes," because the Pentagon would be short of troops if it followed the requirements, Murtha said.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said Murtha's proposal would hurt troops already there. He called it "unthinkable."
Even Republicans who favor the nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's buildup say they are less likely to join Democrats behind Murtha's bid to tie the president's hands.
"I will leave them when they begin to de-fund the troops, if that's their intention," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio.
They can't stop a House vote if enough Democrats get behind it, for Democrats hold a 233-201 majority.
It's a different story in the Senate, where Democrats have only a 51-49 majority and where the minority party can exploit the chamber's rules to slow or block debate. That's what Senate Republicans did last week, blocking a nonbinding resolution of opposition to the troop increase from reaching a vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is trying to pressure Republicans to let the Senate vote on the House's nonbinding resolution, and he scheduled a test vote for Saturday. Beyond that, Reid said, he isn't sure what binding legislation the Senate will pursue or whether any can pass.
"The president has the veto pen," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "No one thinks we have 67 votes" to override a veto.
"It's a process. We are going to keep ratcheting up the pressure so that public opinion and congressional opinion is so strong that the president will have no choice but to change strategy."
Americans' dismay over Iraq continues to grow. A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found that 53 percent of Americans want the troops home as soon as possible, up 5 points in the past month. Also, 63 percent oppose Bush's buildup.
(Staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this article.)
To watch an interview with Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in which he outlines his planned legislation to limit troop deployment to Iraq, see www.MoveCongress.org
(EDITORS: The poll mentioned in the last graf was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Feb. 7-11 among 1,509 Americans. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.