Does a second failed vote kill the Democrats' opposition to Bush's surge plan?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 18 2007 6:47 AM

Surge Protectors

Everyone leads with yesterday's Senate vote against curbing debate on a nonbinding resolution criticizing the president's plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. A motion to shut off debate on proceeding to the resolution failed 56-34, four votes shy of the 60 needed.

The New York Times points out that the vote saw seven Republicans crossing party lines, five more than crossed over on a similar vote Feb. 5, and all but two of those Republicans are up for re-election in 2008. According to the Washington Post, Republicans voting against ending debate did so because they wanted a vote on language saying Congress could not restrict funding for U.S. troops. The WP reports that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will not try to bring up the resolution again. The NYT, however, says the Senate will consider "substantive proposals on Iraq" as part of legislation based on Sept. 11 Commission recommendations once the chamber reconvenes on Feb. 26. While many in the Senate felt the measure was doomed well before the votes were cast, the Los Angeles Times says that Reid held the Saturday vote in order to get as many Senators as possible to go on record as being for or against the troop-surge plan.

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Ten senators did not show up for the rare Saturday vote, including surge proponent and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was campaigning in Iowa. McCain, like many Republicans, accused Democrats of holding up senators with political theater. The WP teases a story on how the vote interrupted the plans of several other presidential hopefuls, and how some of the candidates, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., have used the vote as a touchstone for announcing their own plans for Iraq. Sen. Clinton's plan would cap troop numbers at the January 2007 level and require congressional reauthorization of the war if certain benchmarks were not met.

The NYT off-leads with news that a string of deadly assaults on coalition helicopters in Iraq are part of a new insurgent strategy, according to recently captured documents. Seven helicopters have been shot down in the past 30 days, more than were shot down in all of last year. Insurgents are using the downed helicopters as bait to ambush rescue troops. U.S. intelligence assessments find that attacks on helicopters are likely to increase as insurgents look to emulate these past successes.

The WP off-leads with a look at the shabby condition of outpatient care at Washington D.C.'s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Over the past five-and-a-half years hundreds of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have overwhelmed the facility's outpatient system, leaving veterans struggling to overcome physical and psychological injuries while battling an inept bureaucracy.

The LAT fronts a piece on conservative activists' early efforts to derail Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign. A variety of books, Web sites, political foundations, and a documentary-style film are all in the works, in an attempt to counteract Clinton's early campaign momentum. The paper compares these efforts to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" campaign that hampered the 2004 White House bid of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., both in terms of content— the dredging of a candidate's past for unflattering material—and form—so-called 527 organizations with unlimited access to soft campaign money.

Under the fold, the NYT shares the allegations of former Iraqi prisoners who say they were abused while in U.S. custody, sometimes being held for years without being formally charged. Several former detainees claim they were Tasered for minor infractions, with one saying he was Tasered on the tongue for speaking out of turn.

The LAT reports that NATO officials are expecting a major Taliban offensive in Afghanistan this spring. The country's mountainous border regions have been steadily falling back under the sway of the fundamentalist group, giving them the confidence to make a play at retaking the interior of the country.

The WP writes that while senators were debating their position on Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a surprise visit to Baghdad Saturday to shore up support for a new security plan for the city, which went into effect last week. Rice cautioned Iraqis that Americans are growing impatient with the lack of progress in securing the country, but reiterated that the Bush administration will not be imposing benchmarks for progress. Rice also noted that while attacks have been down slightly since the new plan went into motion, she didn't expect the relative peace to be permanent and warned that there would be worse days ahead.

The LAT fronts analysis of the serious legal implications of Anna Nicole Smith's death. Aside from the human drama and court room theatrics, the paper believes the messy state of her personal affairs could provide a catalyst for several far-reaching legal rulings, rewriting the books on inheritance law, paternity law, and a host of other issues.

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