Senate Republicans who blocked a vote on setting a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are more interested in protecting the president than protecting American troops, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Sunday on Face The Nation.
"Even Iraqis, by a 70 percent margin, think that Americans in Iraq are doing more harm than good," he said. "So getting the Americans out of Iraq ... I think, would lessen chaos rather than increase it."
The legislation stalled Wednesday after a 52-47 vote fell eight votes short of the 60 that Democrats needed to advance it. Reid kept the Senate all night Tuesday to try to force some movement on the issue.
Critics have charged the Democratic leader with failing to compromise after he ended debate early Wednesday morning, but Reid said he only wanted to force an up-or-down vote.
"I offered on many occasions – not one, two, three, four occasions – many occasions said, 'Let's vote on all the Iraq amendments, all of them, and have a simple majority for them.' The Republicans wouldn't let us," Reid said. "They would not let us vote on the Iraq amendment because they are more interested, minus Olympia Snowe and a few others, they're more interested in protecting the president than they are protecting the troops."
Reid said Democrats do not want to withdraw troops precipitously, but rather set a timetable where forces would be redeployed by May 1, 2008. The U.S. military would then focus on counterterrorism, protecting American assets in the Middle East and training Iraqi troops, Reid said.
Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence, was one of four Republicans who broke with her party and voted Wednesday with the Democrats. She said Congress and the president need to reach a compromise and start to bring troops home in anticipation of an assessment to be given by Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq.
"The president needs to understand that September 15 is going to be a serious deadline for change in our mission," she said on Face The Nation. "If you look where we are today, I mean, it's been eight months since the election, where the American people repudiated the stay-the-course in Iraq, rejected the open-ended, unconditional commitment by the president in Iraq."
Snowe said that Congress, which has a 14 percent approval rating, isn't reflecting the views of the American people.
"Here we are 8 months later, who would've believed that we would be now committing additional troops of more than 30,000 and the Iraqi government has yet to achieve one political benchmark to reconcile their country," she said. "And more outrageously that they plan to take the month of August off while our men and women dying in the field. So we're making the military sacrifice, our brave men and women yet they are unable to make a political sacrifice to achieve what only they can achieve in the end and that is to reconcile their country and to take charge of their own destiny."
But at the same time, Snowe said Reid should be more willing to compromise, even though Republicans blocked a straight-majority vote.
"Right now is the pivotal time with respect to our policy in Iraq," she said. "We should be sending an unconditional message that this is the final window of opportunity for the Iraqi government to initiate the political benchmarks that they view to be essential to national reconciliation."