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McCain says he'll propose benchmarks for Iraq

Story Highlights

• Arizona Republican hopes to blunt opposition to troop increase
• McCain also wants to increase congressional oversight of war
• Potential presidential candidate still formulating proposal
• Two other resolutions already being considered
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain, a leading advocate of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, said Thursday he'll try to blunt the impact of proposed Senate resolutions opposing a buildup with a new resolution of his own.

McCain, an Arizona Republican, said he will propose benchmarks for Iraq's government to meet as part of the new push, and he also will seek to increase congressional oversight of the war.

He offered no details of his "embryonic" proposal, but he said those steps "might be a way of calming the concerns that many of our colleagues have."

McCain, a likely presidential contender in 2008, said his plan might ease colleagues' frustration over the "rosy scenarios" put forth by the Bush administration about progress in Iraq.

"There is a legitimate concern about the lack of congressional oversight, about sending Gen. [David] Petraeus there saying we don't approve of his mission," he said. Bush has nominated Petraeus to be the new commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

"One of the areas we really want to work on is setting some benchmarks, so the American people and Congress will know if we're making progress or not," McCain said.

In announcing his support for Bush's plan Monday, freshman Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana suggested setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government, but he did not offer a formal proposal.

Two groups of senators have proposed nonbinding resolutions of opposition to President Bush's plan to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq. Three other Democratic senators have proposed bills that would cap the number of U.S. troops there. (Watch senators clash over competing proposals Video)

Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a principal sponsor of one opposition resolution, scoffed at what he called McCain's epiphany on benchmarks. He said that when Democrats pushed for benchmarks a year and a half ago, Republicans accused them of "cutting and running."

Divisive language

Biden, along with Sens. Carl Levin, D-Michigan and Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, last week introduced the resolution that would declare that Bush's plan was "not in the national interest." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday voted 12-9, largely along party lines, in favor of the resolution. (Republicans on panel wary of further commitment in Iraq)

Many senators have objected to the measure's language as unnecessarily divisive.

McCain would not say which other senators he is talking to about a possible resolution, but said he is not working with the White House on drafting it.

If Iraqis don't meet the benchmarks his resolution would set, "I think everyone knows the consequence," McCain said. "Then you have to examine your mission. But it's important that we know whether they're meeting benchmarks or not."

Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the influential former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, signed on Monday as a sponsor of a separate resolution stating the Senate's opposition to the additional deployment. (Full story)

Warner's proposal, co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, "urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives."

The Biden and Warner resolutions will be debated on the floor within two weeks, Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

McCain said he didn't know if his resolution would be considered as part of that debate.

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Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, supports an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

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