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Key GOP senator opposes Bush's Iraq plan

Story Highlights

NEW: Freshman Republican Sen. David Vitter announces support for Bush
• Sen. John Warner co-sponsors measure opposing troop increase
• Bipartisan measure is one of several; this one avoids use of "escalation"
• House Republicans propose detailed oversight of war's progress
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The influential former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee weighed in Monday against President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, co-sponsoring a resolution that would put the Senate on record against it.

Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, is one of four principal sponsors of a compromise that would express the Senate's opposition to the additional deployment, but avoid calling it an "escalation" of the four-year-old war.

"The Senate disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces by 21,500, and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives for achieving the strategic goals set forth below with reduced force levels than proposed," the measure states.

Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, joined Warner in co-sponsoring the measure -- one of several the Senate could take up this week. They expressed concern about sending U.S. troops into a sectarian conflict between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations, and said U.S. troops should leave a crackdown on that violence to Iraqi troops.

Warner said the senators were "accepting the president's offer" to offer an alternative to his plans. (Watch Sen. Warner express doubts about the president's plan Video)

"We say, 'Mr. President, go back and look at all the options,' " Warner said.

Bush picked up support from Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a first-term Republican who had expressed doubts about the president's plan.

Vitter announced Monday that he would support the additional deployment, calling it "a final attempt to stabilize the situation and protect America's security."

But he said the administration should lay out clear benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, convene a regional conference of Iraq's neighbors -- including Iran and Syria -- to resolve the conflict and examine whether the deployment now under way would be adequate.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders proposed a detailed plan for overseeing the progress of the war, putting the administration on notice that even supporters of additional troops want to see results from the deployment, GOP aides said.

The moves come amid increasing dissatisfaction on Capitol Hill with Bush's plan to "surge" more than 21,000 additional troops into Iraq to bolster the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Bipartisan groups in the Senate are drafting competing resolutions critical of the plan, which Democrats say is an escalation of the war.

Competing resolutions

Warner said senators aren't trying to encroach on Bush's authority as commander-in-chief of the military, but he cautioned that the war effort "can only be sustained and achieved with the support of the American people, and with a level of bipartisanship here in the Congress of the United States."

A Senate resolution introduced last week by Sens. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, would declare that Bush's plan was "not in the national interest." But at least two Republicans who oppose the new deployment said they were unhappy with the resolution's tone. (Full story)

"The other resolution was a real thumb in the eye to the president," one source familiar with the process told CNN. "Our goal is to make the same point but get 60 to 65 votes, not 51 or 52."

Warner's clout is likely to influence several Republicans still on the fence, and he was working behind the scenes for some time to build support for a compromise, sources involved in crafting the resolution told CNN.

Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Warner said the senators would wait to see what emerged from that committee before deciding whether to push their resolution as a substitute.

But Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned Sunday that a unified statement of opposition is needed to let Bush know Congress opposes his plan.

"The worst thing we can do is to vote on something which is critical of the current policy and lose it, because if we lose that vote, the president will use the defeat of a resolution as support for his policy," Levin told Fox News.

House GOP calls for more accountability

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders proposed a detailed plan for overseeing the progress of the war, putting the administration on notice that even supporters of additional troops want to see results from the deployment, GOP aides said.

In the House, Republican leaders called for monthly written reports from the Bush administration on the progress of the war. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that a select committee to review the war effort would give Congress a "thoughtful analysis" of how well Bush's new strategy is working.

In announcing the deployment, Bush said he had made clear to al-Maliki that the U.S. commitment to his government is "not open-ended."

"This message from Congress to both the administration and the Iraqi government is that Congress' commitment is not open-ended either, and we expect real, tangible results," a House Republican aide said.

Polls show the war has become widely unpopular with the American public, and Democrats say the November elections -- when they reclaimed control of both houses of Congress -- demonstrated the need for a new course. House GOP leaders came up with their plan after a series of "listening sessions" with rank and file GOP members led by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Michigan.

It was not immediately clear how Boehner's proposal would differ from one Pelosi, D-California, proposed in December. That review committee would include top members of the Armed Services, Intelligence and Appropriations committees.

The House GOP proposes a set of benchmarks for the military, political, and social prongs of the U.S. strategy in Iraq and would require the administration to report on progress toward those benchmarks every 30 days. Republican leaders said they want to see details of the performance of the Iraqi police forces and the Iraqi investment in combat training, the aide said. The political benchmarks will ask for information on how Iraqis are "developing a strategy on tolerance."

Asked whether the White House was consulted on the benchmarks or the request for reporting, this aide said, "the White House has been informed."

CNN's Deirdre Walsh, Dana Bash and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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