Democrats took the first step toward a wartime repudiation of President Bush Wednesday, convening the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve non-binding legislation saying an increase in troops in Iraq is "not in the national interest."
The panel's Democratic chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden said the measure is "not an attempt to embarrass the president...It's an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq."
Democrats expressed confidence the measure had the votes to prevail, likely with the support of only one Republican member, Sen. Chuck Hagel.
But at least eight Republican senators say they now back legislative proposals condemning Mr. Bush's decision to send more troops into Iraq. The growing list — which includes Sens. Gordon Smith, George Voinovich and Sam Brownback — has emboldened Democrats, who are pushing for a vote by next week on a rebuke of the president's Iraq policy.
The nonbinding resolution being voted on Wednesday was drafted by Biden and Hagel, along with Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Republican defections for Mr. Bush's Iraq policy spell trouble for an administration that has come to rely on congressional Republicans to champion its agenda. While many Bush loyalists remain, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., other lawmakers say the president cannot continue down a path the public does not support.
White House officials "realize you can't conduct a war with one party for it and one against it, and we're getting in that type of position," said Brownback, a Kansas Republican. "And that is not a durable position."
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota initially reluctant to sign on to the resolution because he deemed it too partisan, said he would try to amend the language to broaden its appeal. Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd and Barack Obama — two presidential hopefuls — planned to weigh in with proposals that would toughen the measure.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the panel, planned to reject the resolution but not before registering his own concerns.
"I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed," said Lugar, an Indiana Republican, according to prepared remarks. He suggested stepped-up oversight, including seeking assurances from the administration that it is planning for the possibility of failure.
"I say to my colleagues that we are selling our powers short with this resolution," he said.
As lawmakers considered their next steps, the Army general tapped to implement Mr. Bush's plan told a Senate panel Tuesday that more troops are necessary and he could not do his job without them.
said Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "He will try to wait us out. In fact, any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees."
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush reiterated those remarks:
According to a CBS News Poll conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the speech, a slim majority of speech-watchers –to Iraq. This is an improvement from before the speech when just 43 percent of the same people supported sending more troops.
In the Democratic response to the president's speech, freshman Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia shot back: "We need a new direction. The majority of the nationis being fought; nor does the majority of our military."
Many other lawmakers remained reluctant.
"I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Sen. Susan Collins. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators but as occupiers."
Republicans Collins, Smith and Coleman are co-sponsoring a resolution drafted by Sen. John Warner that states Senate opposition to the president's plan to send 21,500 troops but leaves open the possibility of Mr. Bush sending in a much smaller number of troops, particularly to the western Anbar province.
On Tuesday, Brownback and Voinovich, a Republican of Ohio, said they too were inclined to vote in favor of Warner's measure.
Warner, a prominent Republican from Virginia and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, cast his measure as a milder alternative to the one backed by Democrats and being reviewed Wednesday by the Foreign Relations Committee. That resolution was drafted by Chairman Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, alongside Hagel and Sens. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican and Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
As a member of the panel, Coleman is expected to offer two amendments to bring it closer to Warner's resolution.
"He feels it important to distinguish between troop increases in Baghdad where the conflict is largely sectarian, as opposed to Anbar where we are engaged in a battle against al Qaeda and terrorists forces," spokesman LeRoy Coleman said.
MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report