For the past few weeks, a cadre of close consultants advising Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, was split over how to approach the looming legislative battles on Iraq.
Those in favor of giving Republicans an opening for compromise outnumbered those who believed such a deal would fail politically. The former argued that "progress" on Iraq - in this case passing drawdown legislation even without a firm exit date - was preferable to passing nothing at all.
Now, the debate is seemingly over.
With every Democratic amendment to the Defense Authorization Act expected to be filibustered by Senate Republicans, the consensus appears that Reid and company should adopt a more aggressive stance on all matters Iraq, including in battles following this round of legislation.
Among those who meet regularly in the Senate leader's office are Jim Margolis, a senior partner at the consulting firm GMMB and an adviser to presidential candidate Sen., Barack Obama, D-IL; Doug Sosnik, a political strategist and adviser to presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT; Mark Mellman, a pollster for Reid; and Stephanie Cutter, formerly a staffer with Reid and now head of the consulting firm, Cutter Media Group. In addition, Paul Begala and pollster Stan Greenberg - both prominent advisers to former president Bill Clinton - have sat in on strategy meetings, as has Susan McCue, Reid's former chief of staff.
According to several sources, the majority of these consultants were touting the efficacy of a compromise with Republicans on Iraq legislation as recently as last week. Reid, himself, put on a full court press to recruit opposition support. The majority leader called and visited Republican senators in their offices and actively lobbied them on the Senate floor.
"He kept looking for cracks," Reid spokesman Jim Manley told the Huffington Post. But "it became clear that the Republicans were not prepared to break with the President."
This past Monday, Reid's tactics changed. Rather than petition for a bipartisan approach, he decided instead to push Iraq legislation that - echoing war-critic demands - called for an immediate withdrawal of a large number of troops and a firm deadline for a nearly-complete redeployment. According to party insiders who spoke to the Huffington Post, there is now almost complete unanimity among Reid's circle that this is the best way forward.
"If the money is going to the President it is important that Democrats show they are trying to get the troops out of Iraq," a well-connected foreign policy advisor told the Huffington Post. "They need to have the fight. It's more than just appeasing anti-war constituents."
Reflecting this strategy, Sens. Carl Levin, D-MI, and Jack Reed, D-RI, scrapped an amendment they had worked on that included a non-binding goal for troop withdrawal in favor of a mandatory deadline of nine months. Meanwhile, the last hope that Reid's advisers had of pushing through war legislation - Sen. Jim Webb's, D-VA, amendment requiring that troops be given equal time at home as they spend deployed abroad - died at the hands of a filibuster on Wednesday evening.
The defeat was disappointing but not unexpected. According to those who have worked with the majority leader, the goal will now be to find as many avenues as possible to paint the Republicans as the party that ignored the troops and prolonged the war.
"There has to be a continual drumbeat to end the war," said one high ranking Democratic adviser. "Whether that takes the form of Levin-Reed or another piece of legislation we're going to be talking about it."
Over the next few days, Reid is slated to introduce a measure put forward by him and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, calling for the removal of nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq by June 2008, as well as an amendment from Sen. Joseph Biden, D-DL, which calls for dividing political control among Iraq's warring factions.
There is also an emerging consensus about what do to when (or if) these measures fail. Manley, in Reid's office, said he was not worried about losing moderate Democrats to a Republican amendment, such as a measure likely to be introduced by Sens. John Warner, R-VA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, calling for a re-definition of America's mission in Iraq.
Moreover, he hinted that Reid and company are likely to reintroduce filibustered amendments in light of continued Republican opposition. "Leave aside the bills and ask me if he is going to keep at this," said Manley, "the answer is yes."
It is a proposal that would certainly delight war critics.
"The bottom line criteria needs to be legislation that gets us out of Iraq," said former Congressman Tom Andrews, now head of the non-profit organization, Win Without War. Sending legislation back "certainly is preferable to having legislation that actually sets us back."
Over the next few weeks there will be ample opportunity for Reid to continue to push for a firm deadline for a troop withdrawal. A war appropriations bill is slated come to the Senate floor within the next few weeks.