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Senate Iraq Battle Nears Showdown

The political battle over the war in Iraq continued Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where at least seven resolutions are on the table in response to President Bush's plan for a troop buildup.

With a Senate showdown just days away, No. 2 GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he had concerns with each of a host of the resolutions introduced so far. If Republican leaders do not rally behind a single proposal, the party could avoid taking a clear, united stance on the widely unpopular Iraq war – a consequence Lott suggested he wouldn't mind.

"To herd the cat sometimes you have to let them stray," he said. "Think about that. Keeping them together by letting them stray."

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Tuesday became the latest senator to offer a resolution.

"It is time for us to fundamentally change our policy, it's time to give Iraqis their country back," said Obama, D-Ill. His plan called for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by March of next year.

It appears the original Iraq resolution, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden and endorsed by Republican Chuck Hagel, is losing steam, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports. It expresses symbolic opposition to the president's troop increase.

"It's dead, politically," said one Republican source.

Gaining steam are a similar bipartisan proposal from Repubican Sen. John Warner and a new alternative being drafted by Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

CBS News has learned the McCain-Graham resolution would "allow Republicans cover" by "admitting that the past strategy has failed." But it would support the president's troop surge. It would require Iraqi benchmarks like disarming the militia, allowing local community elections. It would not set out consequences because that, says one person close to the negotiations, "would empower the enemy."

The buildup to the vote on the Senate floor – which will probably be sometime next week – included a half dozen Congressional hearings Tuesday. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Russell Feingold, a Democrat who chaired the hearing, said he wants to block all funding for the war.

"Congress has the power to stop a war if it wants to," said Feingold, D-Wisc., to a round of loud applause.

You don't usually hear cheers like that in Senate hearing rooms, reports Attkisson. You also don't often hear Republicans openly questioning the authority of a president of their own party.

"I would suggest, suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee's ranking Republican. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."

Nerves were raw all over Capitol Hill. War protesters surged into Sen. Hillary Clinton's office, demanding she take an even stronger stand against the war. Police had to break things up.

Over in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just back from visiting troops in Iraq, gave her assessment.

"The situation in Iraq is catastrophic. Let's make no mistake about that," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer says Republicans may be using delaying tactics to postpone votes on the war resolutions as long as possible, the idea being the longer they can put those votes off, the better chance the Republicans will have to make them less critical of the president. Republicans deny all this, but they have managed to get the votes postponed until the middle of next week at the earliest.

Schieffer says he expects that "something is going to pass. Just how critical it's going to be, we don't know yet. But so many Republicans want to put some distance between themselves and the president that something is going to pass.

"These Republicans have read the polls," Schieffer said. "They're under enormous pressure, and they know it.

Here's a look at the proposals the Senate is expected to consider:

  • Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.: A nonbinding resolution stating the troop buildup is "not in the national interest."
  • Sens. John Warner, R-Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb.: A nonbinding resolution stating Senate opposition to the hefty buildup, but remaining open to a small number of additional forces and explicitly noting the president's authority over U.S. forces.
  • Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: A nonbinding resolution that would express support for the added troops, but outline benchmarks the Iraqi government should meet.
  • Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: Legislation demanding U.S. combat forces leave Iraq by spring 2008, but would not cut funding.
  • Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.: Legislation requiring congressional approval if troop levels exceed levels before the troop buildup, or around 130,000, but would not cut funding.
  • Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.: Legislation pulling funding for the war after six months.
  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: A nonbinding resolution stating support for the presidenth's plan, provided that the Iraqi government "makes substantial progress toward meeting the commitments it has made" including assuming control by November 2007.
  • Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.: Legislation protecting war funds from being cut.
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