Specter says the real vote to lose sleep over is in Sept.

Posted: July 18, 2007

WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania yesterday said that an all-night Senate session on Iraq would not change the minds or votes of lawmakers and that votes now were meaningless.

The only vote that matters, Specter said, will come in September after a report from the Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and at a time when current funding for the war expires.

But Specter, who has not joined other senior Republicans in speaking publicly against the White House conduct of the war, said he was prepared to support two amendments this week that anticipate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

"This has been a painful process," Specter said in an interview during the debate. "I sign condolence letters almost every day."

According to the Department of Defense, 170 troops from Pennsylvania have died in the Iraq war.

As he prepared for debate that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) decreed would go through the night, Specter was critical of the Democratic leadership.

"I think there are better ways to deal with the issue and better ways to run the Senate," he said. "I don't think the majority leader is going to change any minds - he might harden some.

"The Democrats are under very heavy pressure politically to show some results," Specter said. "This all-night session is their effort to say to supporters we're doing everything we can, but there is no practical result that is going to come from it."

The 77-year-old lawmaker said he was prepared to hang around as long as the debate and votes went on but said the loss of sleep would be in vain.

"Nothing is going to happen with these votes to affect what is going on in Iraq between now and in September when we have to have a defense appropriations bill. That's when the real vote will occur."

Nevertheless, Specter said he was prepared to support two amendments.

The first, known as Salazar-Alexander, would adopt as law the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and set forth a "whole policy framework," as Specter said, including negotiations with Iraq and Syria on the future of the Persian Gulf region.

The second, known as the Warner-Lugar amendment, would require President Bush to come up with a revised military strategy for Iraq by Oct. 16.

The Warner-Lugar amendment was the main topic of yesterday's GOP caucus lunch meeting. Specter said it made some sense.

"We ought to have a plan as to what would happen . . . so that we don't find out what Petraeus says in September and then have not done any advance planning as to how we would handle it," he said.

The senator said he would not speculate on how he would react to a Petraeus report, noting insufficient progress after the troop surge - which Specter opposed - but conceded that change was inevitable.

"There's going to have to be a change of strategy where our troops are withdrawn from Baghdad and go to the perimeter and [be] used for training and not to be in the middle of a civil war," Specter said. "And that would call for a reduction."

With the release of the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday warning of a continuing threat from al-Qaeda, Specter said that the war had "inflamed Muslim fundamentalism" and "distracted" the United States from efforts to broker a lasting Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic resolution.

Contact staff writer Steve Goldstein at 202-408-2758 or slgoldstein@phillynews.com.

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