POLITICS
07/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Democrats Ecstatic Over Maliki, But May Lack Vehicle To Burn McCain

There is near drunken jubilation among Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill over recent remarks by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials explicitly (and then) implicitly endorsing Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan.

One high-ranking aide to a prominent politico described it as the day that will "be remembered as a turning point that underscored the isolation of McCain's position."

"Compare this to four years ago when [then] Prime Minister Allawi was very publicly in sync with Bush," he offered. Now, "the Americans, the Iraqis, and even the Bush Administration don't share [McCain's stance]."

The aide was joined by Senators who took to the floor and the media to hit away at the remark. Evan Bayh, on MSNBC, dogged the presumptive Republican nominee for claiming superior knowledge of "conditions on the ground in Iraq" than the Iraqis. "Who do you think understands more?" he asked. "And they support Barack Obama's position." Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, predicted repercussions in the fall. "If Senator McCain fails to join the chorus of calls for a responsible path out of Iraq," he said from the Senate, "the choice in November will be very clear."

And yet, for all the possibilities presented by Maliki's remark, there seems to be little opportunity for Senate Democrats to take advantage of it legislatively.

Normally, in the height of a presidential campaign, political parties are keen on forcing opposition candidates into uncomfortable positions or votes. Along those lines, a Democratic Senator could, theoretically, offer a sense of the Senate resolution declaring that U.S. troops in Iraq had done commendable work but should be brought home at the behest of the sovereign leader of that country. If McCain were to oppose the measure he would framed as a imperialist who has backtracked on prior public proclamations. If he were to support it - which is impossible to imagine - he would be conceding war policy (a core of his campaign) to Obama.

"It would put him in an incredibly tough spot," said a Hill veteran.

Already, House Democrats are moving towards such an end. Rep. Maxine Waters, taking her cue from Maliki's remarks late last week (when he said he supported a timetable for withdrawal before "clarifying" his statement) introduced legislation calling on President Bush to "respect Iraq's sovereignty and redeploy our military if asked to do so by the Government of Iraq."

The Senate, however, may prove more difficult terrain. The body is set to go on recess in roughly two weeks and the schedule between now and then is packed with energy and housing legislation. Any sense of Senate resolution relating to Maliki would likely have to come attached to a bill already under works. A representative for Sen. Carl Levin - who chairs the Armed Services Committee - said she did not know if anything was in the works.

And yet, even if the Democrats lack the vehicle to rake McCain over the legislative coals, the party nevertheless has what it and observers see as a real political thumping stick. As Allan Rivlin, a pollster with Hart Research Associates told the Huffington Post:

"This does seem like another door closing for McCain... Maliki's statement and meeting with Obama did make life a lot easier for Obama. It seems Maliki is representing Iraqi public opinion and standing up to Bush and Cheney and their desires for an open ended commitment and permanent bases. And McCain's geography goof does not help him either. The pace of mistakes coming from the McCain campaign is nothing short of astonishing. As an aside: I saw the Hunter S. Thompson Documentary 'Gonzo' which included a lot of discussion of the 1972 McGovern campaign. Gary Hart (who was McGovern's campaign manager) said McGovern had to run a near perfect campaign to win but instead they made the big mistakes and it never got close. This is starting to feel like that to me [with McCain playing McGovern]."