The leadership of the new Senate Democratic majority expressed concern Wednesday that President Bush does not understand the urgency of the situation in Iraq, and does not appear to be planning for change beyond replacing Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense.
"We are bound and determined to change course in Iraq," Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, who will be Senate majority leader in the new Congress, told a Monitor breakfast. "We have a plan, we have enunciated that plan, we have done it through legislation and a lot of talk, and we'll continue to do that."
Senator Reid was accompanied by his deputies in the Democratic leadership, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, and Patty Murray of Washington. Senator Durbin spoke of a meeting he and Reid had attended with the president last Friday, in which he said he thought Mr. Bush was "sensitive to the fact that the political dynamic in this town has changed."
But, Durbin added, "I did not hear in the president's response on Iraq that he was preparing for change beyond the replacement of Secretary Rumsfeld. I hope that that changes in the weeks ahead with the Iraq Study commission and the president's own investigation, because ... Iraq is deterioriating by the day."
All four senators expressed hope for bipartisanship when the Democrats take control of the House and Senate in January. Reid was complimentary of the Republicans' new leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, calling him "a creature of the Senate" who has been there a long time and understands it.
As for working with the White House, Senator Schumer offered some advice for the president: "Frankly, I hope George Bush works with us in a bipartisan way, but that means he's going to have to break from [Vice President] Dick Cheney, who does not believe in bipartisanship, who believes he is right and the rest of the country is going wrong and he has a mission to take it back."
Later, the senators added that they were not pushing for impeachment, of either Bush or Cheney.
"One of the things that we were able to cut off pretty quickly is the 'impeach Bush' program," said Reid, referring to some Democratic activists who have that goal. "That was because of two words: Dick Cheney," he joked.
Schumer blamed the administration for not listening to multiple points of view, saying that when someone does, "they kneecap him."
"They call him names, they attack their integrity or their loyalty to America," Schumer said. "And it seems to me, that's what Dick Cheney has done over and over again, in terms of not listening to other people, and the president seems to listen to Dick Cheney. So my hope is he'll listen to multiple voices, because there's a lot out there and I think it's one of the reasons they had such trouble in 2006."