Forget about John McCain and Chuck Hagel.
If you are looking for a maverick Republican in the Senate, consider Oregon Senator Gordon Smith.
Smith made headlines last December when he bitterly denounced the Bush administration’s management of the Iraq war on the Senate floor.
“I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day,” said the moderate senator who faces reelection next year. “That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more. I believe we need to figure out not just how to leave Iraq but how to fight the War on Terror and to do it right.”
Predictably, Smith’s use of the word “criminal” garnered a lot of attention.
Republicans were furious with the senator. Democrats were delighted on one hand – it is always good to have a member of the president’s party unleash on the White House – but frustrated on another, since Smith poke at the president made it harder dismiss him as “just another Republican” going into the 2008 election season. (So far, no serious Democratic challenger has emerged for Smith who, in a poll of likely Oregon voters released this week, enjoyed a 57 percent approval rating among Republicans and a 55 percent approval rating among Democrats.)
Skeptics questioned whether Smith, who voted to authorize Bush to attack Iraq and generally supported the war until last year, was just spouting off or had experienced a fundamental change of heart. After all, aside from the “c” word, Smith’s comments were not all that much more condemnatory of the White House’s approach in the Middle East than those of Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who frequently compares the Iraq quagmire to the Vietnam war but who can never be counted on to vote for an exit strategy.
On Thursday, however, Smith distinguished himself by going beyond rhetoric.
When the Senate voted on a plan advanced by Senate Democratic leaders to try and begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days in Iraq – with a goal of getting all U.S. troops out by March 2008 – Smith was the sole Republican to cast an anti-war vote.
The measure that was considered by the Senate needed 60 votes to pass. It got just 48 – those of 46 Democrats, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Smith.
Two Democratic senators, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor, voted with 47 Republicans and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to block the measure.