Senate Dems unveil plans for nationwide hearings on Iraq

Senate Democrats said Wednesday they plan to hold hearings around the country on Iraq before and after the November elections.

Democrats accused Senate Republicans of failing to conduct significant oversight of military operations, construction and contracting policies in Iraq, highlighting reports of intelligence failures as well as waste and fraud. "They've held some here and there but very few significant hearings," said Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

Dorgan kicks off the first hearing Monday in Washington and is expected to announce more details about future proceedings. Democrats denied that the timing of the oversight hearings is linked to the upcoming midterm elections, saying they have extended invitations to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona as well as other GOP senators.

Dorgan added that the hearings would not be held in battleground states ahead of the elections. "It has nothing to do with that," Dorgan said. Yet Senate Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York added that if Democrats win the majority this fall, they would continue their investigations next year.

Republicans pounced on Democrats' plans, saying they were planning campaign events to try to court voters displeased with the situation in Iraq.

"They're just staging a performance with little substance and no proposals," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who tied Democrats' hearings with their call for withdrawing U.S. troops in Iraq. "This is just another dangerous idea," he said, and argued that the Senate Intelligence Committee consistently holds closed-door meetings with administration officials to protect U.S. military strategy.

DeMint conceded that Republicans have struggled recently to effectively deliver their message to voters on Iraq, but said President Bush's series of speeches this month helped to define the administration's efforts.

"We're beginning to see the polls go up," he said, adding Republicans would continue to talk about the ramifications of withdrawing troops from Iraq on the campaign trail next month. "As soon as you do that, people get it," he said.

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