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Reid Puts Off Iraq Debate Until After Recess

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will put off another attempt to pass a resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq until after the Presidents Day recess, turning the issue over to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to address during next week’s lead up to the break.

Reid’s decision to let the House vote first on the measure came on the heels of an announcement by seven Republican critics of the war that they would look to break the Senate’s impasse on the resolution by attaching it to other bills. Five of the seven — including Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the sponsor of the resolution — had backed a GOP filibuster of the language Monday that brought the debate on Iraq to a standstill.

Democratic and Republican leaders were quick to claim the announcement was a vindication of their positions. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) sent Reid a letter Thursday claiming the announcement by Warner should be read as an endorsement of their demands that the Senate also vote on a resolution drafted by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) aimed at undermining support for the Warner resolution by shifting the focus to whether lawmakers support the soldiers in the field.

But Reid, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) saw the announcement as vindication of their decision to limit debate on Iraq to the Warner resolution. “I think the letter they sent was a giant mea culpa … I’m glad they came to their senses,” Schumer, who also is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, told reporters.

As the political stakes continue to increase on Capitol Hill, the White House on Thursday waged a PR offensive of its own. Bush administration officials invited a bipartisan, bicameral group of House and Senate leadership communications officials to join in on “an unclassified briefing” from Baghdad on Monday morning.

The video teleconference is being billed as the first of what the administration says will be regular sessions with leadership aides, and comes at a time when the Democrats have voiced near uniform opposition to the president’s proposed troop surge. Ambassador Daniel Speckhard, deputy chief of mission, and Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq, will spearhead the briefing with the press aides.

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