WASHINGTON – In a surprise move, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to begin debating a bill that would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in 120 days and cut funding for battlefield deployments.
Republicans, who are largely opposed to the withdrawal measure, announced that they would support beginning the debate because they wanted the chance to draw attention to the decreased violence and other security improvements that have been achieved since the increase of about 30,000 U.S. forces in Iraq last year.
“There’s been so much improvement in the situation in Iraq. Since they are the ones who want to turn back to the subject, we’d like to spend the time talking about the dramatic improvements in Iraq,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters moments before a preliminary vote on the withdrawal amendment offered by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
The Senate voted 70-24 in favor of taking up the bill, with 43 Republicans joining 26 Democrats and one independent.
In five previous efforts during the past 20 months, Feingold has never received even 30 votes to bring his bill to the floor for debate. Not a single Republican had supported Feingold’s withdrawal bills, which have been considered the strictest offered in terms of requiring troop withdrawals from Iraq.
This Feingold bill would mandate troop redeployments out of Iraq within 120 days of being signed into law, while allowing funds to be spent for just a few reasons there: ongoing counterterrorist operations, protecting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, training Iraqi forces and on the actual redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq.
“Keeping our troops in Iraq will not solve Iraq’s problems,” Feingold said during the debate Tuesday. “And it won’t help us address the growing threat by al-Qaida around the world.”
However, there is little chance of the Feingold measure actually passing, as Republicans remain steadfastly opposed to it. Most GOP senators openly mocked the amendment, the 35th such Iraq-related vote since Democrats took over the chamber in January 2007, according to GOP estimates. “We’ve already done this. … We don’t need to waste any more time on this,” said Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo.
Under Senate rules, the Feingold amendment will be debated until tonight, and the debate will likely include several controversial amendments offered by both sides.