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April 17, 2014

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Republicans: Yeah, let’s talk about Iraq

WASHINGTON — Here is a glimpse of politics during war time.

After a year in which Democrats were unable to win over enough Republicans to vote on bills to withhold war funds from Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got what he wished for on Tuesday.

Republicans voted en mass this afternoon to support an Iraq war debate.

Unfortunately for Democrats, that was not what they were expecting.

Reid most likely figured the bills would be filibustered by Republicans, as happened most of last year.

Democrats would be able to say they tried to change course in the war, but were blocked by Republicans. Next topic.

The Senate would then move onto legislation on the home mortgage crisis.

But Republicans declined to play their usual role today.

Republican leadership senses their party has the upper hand in the war debate as conditions improve in Iraq. They relish the opportunity to say, as one Republican senator did this afternoon, that Democrats want to cut-and run.

They also are likely beginning to coalesce around their party’s presumed presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, who has suggested troops could be in Iraq for 100 years. “We welcome the debate,” Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters this afternoon.

But also Republicans likely saw an opportunity to muck up the Democratic agenda by occupying precious floor time on Iraq. The Iraq debate will probably stretch until Thursday.

Forty-three Republicans, including Nevada Sen. John Ensign, joined 27 Democrats in voting to allow the debate on withholding funds. Last year, Senate Democrats could never get more than about 30 votes (all Democrats) to agree to move forward with a debate.

Even though Democrats have been divided over tying troop withdrawals to the withholding of war funds, Democrats believe that framing the war as an economic issue will resonate with voters.

Reid took the twist in stride.

“We’re voting on these amendments today because we have to change course in Iraq,” Reid told reporters. “We’re not going to leave the debate.”

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