Senate Democrats oppose the war in Iraq, they just don't plan on stopping it.
They have discovered that standing up to the president is not quite as easy as vilifying him.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has decided, however, to challenge what he calls the "timidity" of Democratic leaders. He is going to introduce legislation cutting off funding for the Iraq war and he may do it, he told me, as early as this week.
I reached him by telephone Monday in Fond du Lac, Wis., where he was conducting one of his "Listening Sessions" with voters during a snowstorm.
I asked him whether Democratic voters were further to the left than their elected leaders, especially their presidential candidates, when it came to the war.
"That is not only true of Democrats," Feingold said, "it is true of the public as a whole. The mainstream view of the American people is to get out of Iraq."
Cutting off funds only for the planned 21,500 troop surge in Iraq and passing resolutions condemning the war has become the fallback position of Senate Democrats who are fearful of being portrayed as unpatriotic, cowardly, "Mommy Party" haters of the military.
And they have reason to be afraid. The White House plays hardball. The White House is never reluctant to accuse those who oppose its policies in Iraq of being bashers of our troops and abettors of our enemies.
The Bush administration released a statement last weekend saying that even those who just want to prohibit the surge are sending "the wrong message to our troops, our enemies, and the Iraqi people."
In Iowa Sunday, Hillary Clinton said: "At this point, I am not ready to cut off funding for American troops. I am not going to do that." She said that even if Congress passed such a bill, it would be pointless because we have "a president who will veto anything that impinges on his authority."
Feingold is not impressed with that argument. "It is not true this is a futile exercise," he said. "We can say no."
If, for instance, the Democrats attached an Iraq funding cutoff to an appropriations bill, the president would risk shutting down the government by vetoing it.
But some Democrats are worried. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told my colleague John Bresnahan Thursday, Republicans "would like this debate to be as (to) whether or not we are going to be cutting off money for troops."
And others, including Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., who is running for president, says a funding cutoff probably is unconstitutional.
Which is why Feingold is chairing a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday to "help inform my colleagues and the public about Congress's power to end a war."
Feingold has gathered various legal and other experts to testify, but the result is a foregone conclusion. "I am going to lay out the reality that Congress does have this power," Feingold said. "The president does not have the unilateral power to (continue the war) without our consent."
Feingold said a cutoff of funding six months after the law is enacted "makes sense, it is constitutional, and our troops will not be left in the lurch."
Under Feingold's plan, the administration would have to safely redeploy troops from Iraq except for those needed to target counter-terrorism operations and provide security for U.S "infrastructure and civilian personnel" there, and a "limited number" to train Iraqi security services.
Feingold is going to put his fellow Democrats to the test: If you are really against this war, he is going to tell them, now is the time to show it.
"Those (Democrats) who are timid on this, who are they listening to?" he said. "The people don't want us to talk just about ending the escalation. They think this whole war is wrong."
By Roger Simon
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