It then overwhelmingly endorsed a weaker statement of US policy in Iraq. By 58-40, senators on Tuesday rejected a Democratic plan that the minority party’s leadership advanced in the wake of declining public support for a conflict that has claimed more than 2000 US lives and cost more than $200 billion.
The non-binding measure called for Bush to outline a plan for gradually withdrawing US troops from Iraq.
Republicans countered with their own non-binding alternative.
It urged that 2006 “should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty”, with Iraqi forces taking the lead in providing security, a step Republicans said would create the conditions for the phased redeployment of US forces.
On a 79-19 vote, the Senate approved that Republican-sponsored proposal, which did not call for the president to put forth a withdrawal timetable.
Staying the course
US lawmakers are feeling the heat from frustrated constituents heading into a congressional election year in which a third of the Senate and all 435 House members are up for re-election.
“They want an exit strategy, a cut-and-run exit strategy. What we are for is a successful strategy,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Democratic Congressmen want
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said: “We want to change the course. We can’t stay the course.”
The Senate added the Republican policy to a defence bill the Senate is hoping to complete work on as early as Tuesday.
Overall, the bill includes provisions that, taken together, mark an effort by the Senate to rein in some of the wide authority lawmakers gave Bush after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
The measure includes White House-opposed language that would prohibit the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees and standardise interrogation procedures used by US troops.
The Bush administration has threatened to veto any bill that includes language about the treatment of detainees, arguing it would limit the president’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks.
Later Tuesday, the Senate was expected to add to the bill a proposal that would, in effect, endorse the Bush administration’s military tribunals for prosecuting suspected foreign terrorists held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Under a compromise reached by a bipartisan group of senators, those detainees would be able to appeal their status as “enemy combatants” and the rulings of US military tribunals to a federal appeals court in Washington DC.
“They want an exit strategy, a cut-and-run exit strategy. What we are for is a successful strategy”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
That avenue would take the place of the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions – the right to file habeas corpus petitions in any federal court.
Reflecting senators’ anger over recent leaks of classified information to the public, the bill also includes provisions requiring the Bush administration to provide Congress with details on purportedly secret CIA prisons overseas and stripping of security clearances of any federal government official who knowingly discloses national security secrets.
The House version of the defence bill doesn’t include those provisions, nor does it include the language on the detention, interrogation or prosecution of detainees.
House Republicans who would be part of negotiations over a final defence bill tend to stand with the president.
As a result, it’s unclear whether any of those provisions will survive House and Senate negotiations and actually end up in the final defence bill.
Also uncertain is whether there will even be a final defence bill that makes it to the president’s desk, given that the bill is not a must-pass measure.
It sets Pentagon policy and authorises spending but doesn’t actually provide the dollars.