Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Democratic efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on changing Iraq war policy is evidence that the controlling party has "lost momentum" in their push to end the war in Iraq by setting a timeline for a troop withdrawal, according to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
"They've lost the momentum, otherwise they wouldn't want to sit down with Republicans and negotiate a solution," McCain said in a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. "The facts on the ground contradict the assertions of those who want to set a timetable for withdrawal."
Since returning from the August recess this week, Democratic leaders have been using more ambiguous language to describe their approach to shifting Iraq policy. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that Democrats would "probably" pursue another timetable measure.
In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said "nothing is off the table" with regard to Iraq. But he did not take a firm stance on whether he would support a goal-based withdrawal proposal if it replaced a timetable-based measure.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said this week that he would consider basing withdrawal provisions on achieved goals rather than timetables if making the change would attract the 60 votes needed to beat a Republican filibuster. Levin had previously co-sponsored a proposal setting April 30, 2008 as a deadline for having a "limited presence" in Iraq.
Reid contended with McCain's analysis of Democratic power on Iraq. He said Democrats are "not backing off of anything" but did acknowledge that "there may be things that we can do in a bipartisan way to get 60 votes." Reid continued to offer promises of bipartisanship, saying he hopes "we can enter into an arrangement with Republicans."
"I believe that maybe things are turning ... a little bit for the better in the sense of bipartisanship," Reid said, referring to episodes before the August recess that saw all-night sessions on Iraq in the Senate and accusations of stolen votes in the House.
But Democrats have not backed off completely in their opposition to President Bush's "surge" strategy in Iraq, which was launched in March to provide "breathing room" for the new Iraqi government to stabilize.
Reid called on Republicans to live up to their promise to talk about Iraq strategy after hearing the progress report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker set to be released next week. "They said that when September came they would be willing to help us change course in Iraq," Reid said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), however, hinted that Republicans are not interested in considering any measure that includes a timetable for withdrawal. "It should be off the table," Boehner said. "I don't think the American people want to leave Iraq without winning."
Democrats including Reid, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have already launched an attempt to discredit the Petraeus/Crocker progress report by referring to it as "the Bush-Petraeus report" or simply as "the Bush report."
Schumer, however, would not completely disregard the Petraeus report before hearing it.
"If he can show us it's getting better, that's something different," Schumer told Cybercast News Service. "But to say because we have more troops there, you know, that certain areas are more secure at the moment, it's like pushing on a balloon. You get one area more secure, another area becomes less secure."
Schumer said he's "not very optimistic about what's happening" in Iraq, and that "Petraeus himself has said the solution is political, not military."
In a statement Thursday, Boehner criticized Democrats for "doing anything and everything they can to dismiss their testimony even before they have the chance to utter a single word before Congress."
"Republicans have said all year that we will listen to those who have witnessed our successes and setbacks firsthand," Boehner said, "and as next week's testimony approaches, we will await any recommendations, next steps, or adjustments that may be needed in our strategy."
Republicans accuse Democrats of "cherry-picking" negative aspects of recent reports on progress in Iraq and ignoring military progress being made as a result of the troop surge. They offered their own pre-analysis of Petraeus' report as realistic but optimistic.
"I am sure that Gen. Petraeus will say that we have enormous challenges remaining," McCain said, "but we are making significant and measurable progress as opposed to what was going on before."
McCain added that he will "rely to an enormous degree on the judgment of Gen. Petraeus" and that "if Gen. Petraeus says next spring or in some months that we can draw down some of our troops, I'll be the first to stand and applaud."
He also expressed disagreement with the Democratic position that while military progress is being made, political progress has stalled. "On the ground at the local level there is enormous political progress," McCain said. "We expect more of the Maliki government, but there is significant [progress in] Al Anbar province, in Baghdad."
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