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Draft war resolution may spark constitutional showdown

Story Highlights

• Aide: Draft narrows troops' role to fighting al Qaeda, training Iraqi forces
• Measure calls for removal of combat troops from Iraq by 2008
• It could spark constitutional fight between Congress, White House
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Democrats will pursue a resolution aimed at limiting the role of U.S. forces in Iraq and removing combat troops there by March 2008, a senior Democratic aide familiar with the proposal said Friday.

The measure seeks to replace the 2002 congressional authorization for military action in Iraq with a more narrowly defined mission, which could set off a constitutional power struggle between Congress and the White House over President Bush's authority as commander in chief of the nation's military.

The White House has made it clear that it would oppose any move to rewrite Congress' 2002 authorization.

New language of a draft resolution sponsored by Democratic Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan would narrow and specify the role of U.S. forces to include fighting al Qaeda terrorists, training Iraqi forces and helping Iraq defend its borders, the senior aide told CNN.

Combat troops that are no longer needed for these more limited operations would be removed from Iraq by March 2008 under the resolution, the aide said.

Whether Congress can impose such restriction will draw robust debate. Constitutional scholars disagree on whether Congress can dictate to a president when and how he can deploy troops or whether that would impinge on the president's authority as commander in chief.

Democratic leaders are expected to discuss how to proceed at a caucus meeting early next week, aides said.

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, first floated the idea of revising the Iraq war authorization, which passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 77 to 23 in October 2002. The concept has drawn support from Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

When the resolution came to a vote in 2002, Biden supported it; Levin voted no.

Democratic aide: 2002 resolution not 'relevant'

The senior Democratic aide said the reason for repealing the original language is that it is no longer "relevant" to present circumstances in Iraq because "the condition that prevailed when the president was given the authority to invade in 2002 no longer exists."

But White House spokesman Tony Fratto disagreed, citing language in the resolution giving Bush the authority to use U.S. troops to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning Iraq that are still operative.

"The president said this isn't the fight we entered in Iraq, but it's the fight we're in," Fratto told reporters Friday. "We went in as a multinational force under U.N. authorization to take military action in Iraq. We were there as an occupying force, and now we're there at the invitation of the sovereign, elected government of Iraq."

He added, "I'm not sure if the Democrats are contemplating that the United States should not enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions. If that's something that they're contemplating, I think that would be interesting to some people, to say the least."

Democratic aides concede that at this point, it is unlikely that the Biden-Levin language would muster the 60 votes needed to proceed to a vote under Senate rules. For that to happen, at least 10 Republicans would likely have to support the measure, given that Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has been a staunch supporter of Bush's Iraq policy.

On February 17, a House resolution opposing Bush's plan to increase U.S. forces by 21,500 in Baghdad and Anbar province was thwarted in the Senate when it garnered only 56 votes, with the support of just seven Republicans. (Read why the resolution failed)

However, a senior Democratic aide told CNN that "something that looks impossible today may look possible in two weeks or two months."

Democratic leadership sources said no decision has been made on when the resolution might be introduced, nor has a decision been made on whether to move it through the Senate as a free-standing measure or attach it to other upcoming legislation, such as a supplemental spending bill or a measure implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations.

CNN's Andrea Koppel and John Roberts contributed to this report.

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Sen. Carl Levin said he said he would try to seek to revise the authorization that Congress passed in 2002 for Bush to wage war in Iraq.



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