Democrats in the House of Representatives say Friday's 246-182 vote for a nonbinding resolutionopposing President Bush's plan to deploy more troops to Iraq is only the first step in a series of moves to pressure the administration to change course. But the real action politically may rest with GOP minority in both the House and the Senate. Only 17 House Republicans ended up voting against the president--far fewer than the White House once feared. But the numbers of GOP dissenters could grow very soon if the president's "surge" doesn't start showing clear progress, some members say. "If the situation is as it is today in May or June, there could be 30 or 40" Republicans voting against the troop surge, says Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who has been among the most outspoken in his party against the Iraq war. By the fall, the number could hit 70, he believes. The situation is similar in the Senate, where there are "a lot of Republicans who are right on the edge" of abandoning Bush, says a Senate aide who, like others, asked not to be identified talking about internal matters.
Even Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays--a longtime war supporter who voted against the resolution Friday-- said he will be willing to look at a "Plan B" for troop withdrawal if the situation doesn't change very soon. "I think you need to start to see some noticeable differences in four months," he says. "You need to see trend lines that are going up and not down." What trend lines? A decline in violence, signs that the Iraqi troops are protecting Sunni neighborhoods and some diplomatic overtures by the administration to Syria in particular. But the biggest Republican to watch is Sen. John McCain, perhaps the Iraq war's most passionate advocate on Capitol Hill, who also happens to be running for president. For all his ardent backing of the troop surge, McCain in recent weeks has signaled that he won't maintain his backing indefinitely if he concludes the United States is a mere bystander in a hopeless civil war. "I think he's telegraphed his moves pretty clearly on this," says one close McCain advisor who said the senator would then call for a troop withdrawal. And that, says another Senate aide, "would be the biggest bellwether of all."