Number Crunch

Here are the numbers to keep in mind:

Number of Democrats in the House — 233
Number of votes needed to override a veto, if all members vote — 290
Number of Republican/Independent votes needed — 57

Number of Democrats in the Senate — 51
Number of votes needed to override a veto, if all members vote — 67
Number of Republican/Independent votes needed — 16

Of course, that’s assuming you get 100 percent of the Dems, which so far hasn’t happened on any of the Iraq votes in the House. In the Senate, Joe Lieberman is counted as a Dem to claim a Democratic majority and rights to committee chairs, but he votes with the Republicans regarding Iraq. He’s neither fish nor fowl, as they say. But we get Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on our side on Iraq, so let’s call it a wash.

The point is that in order to take the war away from President Bush a whole mess o’ Republicans must be persuaded to vote with the Dems — at least 67 House members and 16 senators, possibly more. But the only hope we have that troops will be deployed out of Iraq — indeed, that anything resembling a rational policy is applied to Iraq — before the Bush Administration ends is if there’s a big enough voting block to override a Bush veto. Even then Bush might well ignore the law, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

President Bush is expected to veto the Iraq Accountability Act early this week. It’s not clear to me what Congress might do next. Whatever happens, I expect the Dems to continue to butt heads with Bush over the war. The question is, when will more Republicans join them?

Doyle McManus writes for the Los Angeles Times that this Iraq War bill is only a prelude.

To buy time for his buildup of more than 28,000 troops to show results, Bush asked his commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, to deliver a progress report to the nation in early September.

That helped stave off Republican defections as Congress debated whether to impose a timetable for troop withdrawals. But it also established September as a deadline for clearer military and political progress in Iraq, a tactical concession for a White House that long has refused to accept any benchmarks or timetables for evaluating the war, now 4 years old.

Democratic and Republican members of Congress already are focusing on September as their next major decision point on the war — planning hearings to debate Petraeus’ findings and, in the Democrats’ case, promising new attempts to force Bush to withdraw troops.

By September, the troop buildup will have been underway for more than six months. Unless there is dramatic improvement in Iraq, public support for the war will probably have eroded further. And by September, skittish Republicans will be four months closer to starting their reelection campaigns.

At the moment, at least 17 Republican senators are expected to run for re-election in 2008. There are three more sitting Republican senators whose terms expire in 2009 but who might retire. Among those 20 are the two Republicans who voted with the Dems on the Iraq Accountability Act, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

And, of course, all members of the House face re-election in 2008.

Doyle McManus continues,

GOP leaders warn that they will need dramatic evidence of progress — something that has been in short supply in Iraq — to maintain support for the war.

“We need to get some better results from Iraq both politically, economically and militarily, and that needs to happen in the foreseeable future,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a Bush administration loyalist.

Several moderate Republicans have warned that they are preparing to switch sides unless the troop “surge” shows results.

“If the president’s new strategy does not demonstrate significant results by August, then Congress should consider all options — including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who last week voted against the withdrawal bill.

Even the most optimistic of the generals do not expect significant results by August.

“There is a lot of frustration with the administration on the Republican side,” said one GOP House member who has voted against every Democratic measure on Iraq but asked not to be quoted by name to avoid angering the White House.

This tells us how sick our government has become. Even a congressman is afraid to speak on the record against the Regime. There cannot be a representative, democratic government if the peoples’ representatives are intimidated by the executive branch.

If Bush follows through on his veto threat, senior Democratic lawmakers have said they will pass an emergency funding bill that does not include the withdrawal timelines the president has complained so vociferously about.

Such a measure, however, almost certainly would include readiness standards for the strained military. It would also outline benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet to demonstrate progress in reconciling differences between the country’s sectarian communities.

The administration opposes benchmarks that would impose penalties on Iraq if it does not meet them on time.

“To begin now to tie our own hands and to say, ‘We must do this if they don’t do that,’ doesn’t allow us the flexibility and creativity that we need to move this forward,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

But benchmarks have gained support among Republicans who voice increasing frustration over the Iraqi government’s failure to complete long-promised political reforms: a new law apportioning the country’s oil revenue, a relaxation of rules banning members of the overthrown Baath Party from government jobs, and elections to set up provincial governments.

“We’ve got to get [more] aggressive on pushing the political solution,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a supporter of the war, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “We’ve got to push them very hard. And our timelines, I think, are very short…. I don’t know if [September] is the time to set, but I don’t think we have infinite time.”

I expected more Republicans to have broken with Bush by now. But I agree with McManus that the point of the “surge” was to buy time for the administration. Republicans facing reelection in 2008 may not want to run in the general election as supporters of the Iraq War, but neither do they want to alienate their right-wing base. And the base doesn’t want to hear anything about the war that doesn’t include the words winning and victory. So Republicans are boxed in. I fully expect Bush to trot out some other phony Iraq initiative when he comes back from the August vacation, in the hopes it will keep Republicans in Congress in line and buy him a few more months.

But Republicans running for reelection in 2008 do not have infinite time. If they can’t defuse Iraq as an issue before serious campaigning begins next year, it’s going to cost many of them their seats. Surely they know this.

I want to end the war in Iraq as quickly as possible. However, the big immovable object in the way of that goal is the POTUS. We can holler all we want about defunding the war or impeaching the POTUS, but the reality is that the only body with legal authority to kick Bush out of the way is Congress. And nothing meaningful will happen in Congress until at least 16 Republican senators and 57 Republican House members support it. IMO antiwar activists need to stop bellyaching about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and get to work on Republicans.

The following Republican incumbent senators must win reelection in 2008 if they hope to serve another term.* Not all of them will change their votes, so we’ll need a few Republican senators not on this list. I’m just saying these are the senators with the most reason to be nervous.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia
Thad Cochran of Mississippi
Norm Coleman of Minnesota
Susan Collins of Maine
John Cornyn of Texas
Larry Craig of Idaho
Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina
Pete Domenici of New Mexico
Michael Enzi of Wyoming
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Chuck Hagel of Nebraska**
Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
Pat Roberts of Kansas
Jeff Sessions of Alabama
Gordon Smith of Oregon**
Ted Stevens of Alaska
John Sununu of New Hampshire
John Warner of Virginia

*The term of Wayne Allard of Colorado is also ending, but he has announced his retirement.
** Already voting with the Dems.

The White House is making noises about rejecting legislation that requires the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks, even if there are no timetables. If Reid and Pelosi think they could patch together a veto-proof majority for such a bill, it might be worthwhile to pass it. Baby steps are better than no steps.

Update, sorta related: Maliki’s Office Is Seen Behind Purge in Forces.

Update2: William F. Buckley: “There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.”