Now that the Senate’s had its debate on Iraq policy, the GOP spinmeisters are working overtime to draw attention to Democratic divisions. It’s true there’s a difference of opinion between the 13 senators who voted for the Kerry-Feingold fixed deadline resolution and the rest of the Caucus. But in the end, all but six Senate Dems voted for the Levin resolution calling for a beginning of troop withdrawals by the end of this year and demanding some sort of public strategy for the Iraq endgame.I have to strongly disagree with my colleague The Moose, who characterized the Levin resolution as “withdrawal lite.” Last year a majority of senators from both parties voted for a resolution calling 2006 “a year of transition” for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which means some troop withdrawals. The administration’s own position is that we should all look forward to troop withdrawals as soon as is possible; the Bushies simply want to keep their plans a secret until that first photo op of soldiers and marines coming home, probably right before the November elections. And this is not just a matter of focusing exclusively on U.S. needs: it’s clear Iraqis overwhelmingly want a tangible indication that the build-up of Iraqi security forces, which will soon meet its original targets, will produce a reduction in the U.S. military presence, if not a full withdrawal.The idea that the Levin resolution represents some sort of party-wide tilt to the antiwar cause strikes me as simply wrong. Nobody can accuse, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton of being unwilling to upset a large number of Democratic activists by remaining committed to the possibility of a successful conclusion to the horribly botched Iraq occupation. Yet she was a cosponsor of the Levin resolution and spoke forcefully for it in the Senate (as did DLC Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Carper).It’s certainly true that the Levin resolution is worded in an ambiguous way, leaving open the timetable for withdrawal depending on conditions in Iraq. But the situation on the ground in Iraq is ambiguous as well. Our military leadership is clearly ambiguous about our future role in Iraq. For all its happy-talk, the administration is ambiguous about the political stability of Iraq. And the American people–a majority of whom favor a decisive shift towards Iraqi responsibility for Iraq’s security, even as they oppose a quick withdrawal–are about as ambiguous as you can get.In the end, the Levin resolution reflected a simple call for a change of course and a strategy for moving towards the goal we all share: an end to this war. A large majority of Senate Democrats supported it. And I am personally convinced Republicans will rue the day when they decided to draw even greater public attention to the Bush administration’s record in Iraq, and the GOP’s united support for its incompetent leadership. They’re just not as crafty as they think they are.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.