WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans pushed back yesterday against President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq, some voicing opposition and others urging the administration and Iraqi government to be held more accountable for the war effort.
"We've had four other surges since we first went into Iraq," Sen. Susan Collins said, referring to the administration's plan for an additional 21,500 troops. "None of them produced a long-lasting change in the situation on the ground.
"So I am very skeptical that this surge would produce the desired outcome," the Maine Republican said.
In the Senate, Collins joined two Republicans and one Democrat to unveil nonbinding legislation expressing disagreement with Bush's plan. The president should consider "all options and alternatives" involving a smaller force, the measure said.
In the House, members of the leadership drafted a series of what they called "strategic benchmarks," and said the White House should submit monthly reports to Congress measuring progress.
The developments occurred on the eve of Bush's State of the Union address, and as Democrats pointed toward votes in the House and Senate on bills declaring that the troop increase was "not in the national interest of the United States."
Republicans have struggled to respond in the two weeks since Bush outlined his new strategy. Although aware that the war played a role in the GOP defeat in last fall's elections, most have been unwilling to abandon a president of their own party.
The Senate legislation and the action taken by the House Republican leaders are softer than the legislation that majority Democrats intend to place for a vote. But they also represent a more forceful response to the long and deadly war than the GOP offered while it held the majority in Congress.
More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the war, including 27 over the weekend and one more yesterday.
Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Collins and Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota in producing the legislation expressing disagreement with Bush's plan. Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) joined them.
Warner said he had "great concern about the American G.I. being thrust into that situation, the origins of which sometimes go back over a thousand years."
Collins said some Republican senators did not feel comfortable with the Democratic-backed measure, but wanted to register their concern with Bush's approach.
Unlike the measure backed by Democrats, Warner's proposal would leave open the possibility of Bush's sending a small number of additional troops to a specific region, such as Anbar province in the western part of Iraq.
Even so, the action taken by Collins, Coleman and Warner raised the number of Senate Republicans publicly opposed to the president's plan to five. Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine have said they back the Democrats' resolution.
In the House, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the party's leader, said that he supported Bush's plan and that his backing was not conditional on the president's agreeing to meet the standards that lawmakers laid out.
He said he had told the president "that the support is still strong among Republicans but there are a lot of our members who are skeptical that the plan will work," because of doubts that the Iraqi government will follow through on its commitments.