WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats working with a well-known Republican war critic are developing a resolution declaring that President Bush's troop build up in Iraq "is not in the national interest," said people familiar with the document.
The resolution also would put the Senate on record as saying the U.S. commitment in Iraq "can only be sustained" with popular support among the American public and in Congress, according to officials who are knowledgeable about the draft.
These officials would speak only on grounds of anonymity because the drafting is still under way. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate, is helping Democrats with the wording of the anti-war resolution.
"It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq," it says.
The resolution will be cosponsored by Sens. Carl Levin and Joseph Biden, as well as Hagel. Levin, D-Mich., chairs the Armed Services Committee, and Biden, D-Del., heads the Foreign Relations Committee.
The Senate leadership is expected by Thursday to propose the resolution, with debate planned around the same time that Bush delivers his State of the Union speech next Tuesday.
Hagel's agreement to help Democrats champion the resolution amounts to a setback to the administration and to Bush, who has argued vehemently that some 21,500 additional U.S. troops are needed to help the Iraqi government calm sectarian violence in Baghdad and Anbar province.
Bush announced on Jan. 10 that he planned to augment the more than 130,000 forces in Iraq with the additional 21,5000 troops.
Earlier, Bush summoned Republicans skeptical of the war to the White House to discuss the issue as Democratic House and Senate leaders maneuver for votes to gauge GOP opposition to Bush's policy.
The White House refused to say who was invited to meet with Bush.
The resolutions in Congress seemed likely to be largely symbolic and they would not affect the Pentagon's war budget or challenge the president's authority over U.S. forces. Such votes, however, could be a shot across the bow to Bush.
The resolutions also would help Democrats measure GOP support for more aggressive legislative tactics, such as cutting off funds for the war.
Such a vote puts many Republicans in an uncomfortable position. They will have to decide whether to stay loyal to an unpopular GOP president and risk angering voters disillusioned by the war or buck the party line.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said Wednesday she thinks there should be a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq and said she wants "to condition American aid to the Iraqis on their meeting political benchmarks."
"I am opposed to this escalation," she said on NBC's "Today" program. "The Bush administration has frankly failed to put any leverage on this government," said Clinton, considered a likely 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner, although she has not yet entered the race.
Bush has been trying to sell his revised war plan to the public in a series of television interviews. He told PBS's Jim Lehrer in an interview broadcast Tuesday that keeping his old policies in place would lead to "a slow failure," but withdrawing from Iraq, as some Democrats and other critics suggest, would result in an "expedited failure."
"I am frustrated with the progress," Bush said. "A year ago, I felt pretty good about the situation. I felt like we were achieving our objective, which is a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself. No question, 2006 was a lousy year for Iraq."
Several GOP members of Congress have offered only lukewarm endorsements of Bush's plan.
Republican Rep. Chris Shays - who scraped by in the November elections while his GOP Connecticut colleagues Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson lost their seats - said his vote would depend on what Democrats come up with. He said he supports the troop push if there are guarantees offered by the Iraqis that they will reach a political settlement.
Lining up behind Bush in the Senate are Republican stalwarts and a few members who have long backed sending more troops to Iraq, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Acknowledging their party is divided on Iraq, Republican leaders are trying to stave off a showdown in Congress by casting Democratic efforts as a political ploy to embarrass the president.
Republicans are also discussing alternative proposals, including one House resolution promising to keep funding for troops in combat.
The White House cautioned lawmakers about the consequences of voting against a buildup.
"The one thing the president has said is, whatever you do, make sure you support the troops," press secretary Tony Snow said at the White House. "And the question people who support this resolution will have to ask is, how does this support the troops?"