Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of a pro-troop measure to relieve the stress on the overstretched armed forces, announced he will propose a toothless, watered-down substitute to the Webb amendment.
McCain said he and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) have teamed up to put together a “sense of the Senate” amendment to express “very clearly that we all want all our troops home and we understand the stress and strain that’s been inflicted on the men and women in the military and the guard and reserves.”
McCain’s rhetoric belies his intentions — to kill the Webb amendment. Webb’s bill would force the Bush administration to provide active duty troops at least the same time at home as the length of their previous tour of duty overseas. After learning of the McCain-Warner proposal, Webb immediately rejected it, stating that the troops don’t need the “sense of the Congress” but rather “the will of the Congress”:
I have just learned from Sen. McCain’s comments that Sen. Warner will be offering a side-by-side amendment that goes to the sense of the Congress rather than the will of the Congress. And I would like to state emphatically at the outset that this is a situation that calls for the will of the Congress.
Webb noted at a press conference this morning that Warner is being pressured “very hard” by the Bush administration to back away from his earlier support of the Webb amendment:
QUESTION: Is Senator Warner bailing on you here, or have you reached some accommodation?
WEBB: I’m still hopeful that Senator Warner will support this — will vote for it. [..] As you might imagine, as someone who has been the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he has been pressed very hard by this administration to, sort of, back away from this.
Warner often flinches from head-on confrontation with the Bush administration, and now he is providing an escape outlet for conservatives to claim they support giving the troops rest while doing nothing about it.
UPDATE: Georgia10 points to a Hill article that notes the “Sense of the Senate” strategy was first discussed by Senate Republicans at “a closed-door luncheon meeting” yesterday. They hoped the proposal “would prevent defections by allowing their conference to go on record recognizing the challenges facing troops in Iraq.” Taylor Marsh has more.
UPDATE II: TPM Election Central reports that Warner did not bother to tell Webb about his amendment.