ROGERSVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander indicated Tuesday he plans on staying in the contingent of Senate Republicans opposed to Democratic measures challenging President George W. Bush's combat troop surge in Iraq.
After visiting with a group of about 30 constituents at the Hawkins County Courthouse, the Tennessee Republican said he'll continue to vote against resolutions opposing Bush's Iraq strategy until Democrats "allow a full debate" on the Iraq War.
"We're not going to let the Democrats, whether it's Iraq or whether it's energy independence or education, just say ‘We've got one proposal and that's all we'll talk about,'" Alexander said. "That's not the way the Senate is supposed to work. ... The Senate shouldn't be a rubber stamp for the House."
The House had passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the deployment of more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq, but Alexander was among 34 Senate Republicans blocking a similar measure in the Senate last Saturday.
Alexander told Hawkins Countians that Bush is beginning to be more receptive to recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, which suggested the president needed a "diplomatic offensive" with Iraq's neighbors and an accelerated strategy to help the country assume responsibility for its own security.
"They recommended that as soon as possible we get American forces out of the combat business in Iraq and in a support role. ... That means we weren't patrolling the streets of Baghdad, and we let the Iraqi people do that..." Alexander said. "I think that was a wise set of recommendations. At the time it came out, one group said ‘Well, it's a recipe for defeat' and another group said ‘Let's get out tomorrow.' I don't think we need to do either of those things.
"I haven't voted for any of these resolutions that have come up because I think once you go to war, you have a commander in chief, and you can't have Congress micromanaging the war."
Alexander stressed early campaigning in the 2008 presidential race - with a number of high-profile U.S. senators contending for the job - has become a huge distraction for Congress.
"It distracts from our ability to deal with big issues - Iraq, energy independence, immigration. That's what we ought to be doing this year and (let the candidates) run for president next year," Alexander said.
Besides Iraq, Alexander said Congress should be working on securing America's borders and passing tax credits to buy health care insurance.
He said he is attempting to instill more bipartisanship during weekly breakfast meetings with both Republican and Democratic senators.
"Too many people in Washington get up every day trying to think of how they can beat the other party instead of how they can move our country ahead," said Alexander, a former presidential hopeful, ex-Tennessee governor, former U.S. Education secretary and ex-University of Tennessee president.
Alexander didn't say what his re-election plans look like in 2008.
"I also thought you might like to see one United States senator who is not running for president - all the rest of them are," Alexander joked with constituents after arriving at the courthouse. "One of my favorite stories about campaigning ... is hoping no one says to you what they said to Congressman Mo Udall of Arizona one time in a New Hampshire barbershop. Mo stuck out his hand and introduced himself. The barber looked up and said ‘Yeah I know you. We were just laughing about that yesterday.'"
Alexander said he isn't supporting anyone yet in the current group of GOP presidential hopefuls.
"I've got a bias toward governors as presidents, which is understandable," he said. "I like Governor (Mitt) Romney (of Massachusetts) and Governor (Mike) Huckabee (of Arkansas). I think they are two very accomplished chief executives who serve very well and would serve well as president."