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US Democrats Balancing Act; Blast The War Plan, Back The Troops January 12, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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By David Espo
An AP NEWS ANALYSIS

WASHINGTON (AP)–Majority Democrats face a delicate mission in their first foreign policy clash with U.S. President George W. Bush, determined to force an end to the Iraq war but eager to support the troops.

Republicans do not intend to make it easy on them.

“What they really want is to cut off funding for the troops,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday.
It was a claim Democrats rebutted in advance.

“The Congress and the American people will continue to support them and provide them with every resource they need,” the top four Democrats in Congress pledged Wednesday night as they attacked Bush’s plans to deploy an additional 21,500 troops.

“Our military forces deserve a policy commensurate with the sacrifices they have been asked to make. Regrettably, the president has not provided that tonight,” added Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as Representatives Steny Hoyer, D-Md. and Senator Dick Durbin, D-Il.

For the first time since the war began, Democrats have public opinion on their side – and know it.

The midterm elections that swept Republicans from power in both the House and Senate demonstrated that, and comments by one-time Republican supporters of the president’s war policy confirm it daily.

Senator Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who faces the voters in 2008, checked out in December. He called the war effort absurd and said he would never have voted to authorize combat if he had known that prewar intelligence was wrong.

Other Republicans are following.

Eight members of the House rank-and-file wrote Bush on Jan. 4, urging him “to reject any recommendation for either a short or long term increase in the number of U.S. troops. We are persuaded by all available evidence that an escalation of U.S. troop levels is not the way forward in Iraq.”

Bush was persuaded otherwise, and suffered further political erosion within hours.

“At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the crossfire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach,” Republican Representative Ric Keller, R-Fla., said the morning after the president’s speech.

Across the Capitol complex, Republican Senator George Voinovich, R-Ohio, addressed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “I’ve gone along with the president on this and I’ve bought into his dream, and at this stage of the game I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Both Pelosi and Reid intend to hold votes in Congress within a few weeks on Bush’s revised Iraq policy. It would be the equivalent of a congressional referendum, advisory in nature, and give Democrats a way to show their opposition and force Republicans to make a choice.

Many Democrats in both houses prefer a stronger approach. – Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., pre-empted Reid this week by unveiling a bill to block the use of funds for Bush’s plans to increase the size of the force in the war zone.

In private sessions, House Democrats have prodded Pelosi to be more forceful, and Democratic presidential contenders are likely to compete for the support of antiwar voters. As a result, it seems inevitable there will be efforts to limit funding for the war later in the year.

For now, though, according to several officials, the leadership in both houses would prefer a more cautious approach when it comes to legislation, building additional pressure on the president through extensive hearings into the war.

Their hope is that it will leave the public focus on Bush as steward of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and eroded his standing with the electorate.

Reid, in particular, has said he favors a bipartisan repudiation of Bush’s new policy. “The president’s going to have to take note of that. I think that’s the beginning of the end, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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