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Democrats Refuse To Let Bush Change Subject From Iraq January 24, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Democrats refused to allow President Bush to change the subject from Iraq, challenging him to redeem the nation’s credibility – and his own – with an immediate shift toward a diplomatic end to the bloody conflict.

“We need a new direction,” the Democrats’ chosen messenger, said Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia in the text of a response to Bush’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

“Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos,” said Webb. “But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”

Bush offered no such plan in his speech, nor did he defend his proposed surge of 21,500 troops to Iraq before the most unfriendly joint session of Congress of his tenure.

Bush focused instead on making the case that “failure would be grievous and far-reaching.” He also issued a long list of domestic policy initiatives centered on such pet Democratic issues as energy independence and health care.

Newly installed majority Democrats had made clear since Friday that they believe Bush no longer controls the nation’s policy agenda, especially on Iraq.

In a speech written himself and previewed by senior Democratic officials, Webb, a freshman senator, acknowledged some of Bush’s domestic policy proposals, saying “we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious” about improving education, health care and speeding the recovery of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. He challenged Bush to support the House-passed minimum wage increase and nurture an economy that restores the middle class. And he said Democrats would work with Bush to promote energy independence.

But Webb, a Vietnam veteran who opposes the war, saved his harshest rhetoric for what he framed Bush’s abuse of the public’s loyalty, trust and welfare in the rush to war.

“We trusted the judgment of our leaders. We hoped that they would be right,” Webb said. “We owed them our loyalty as Americans, and we gave it.

“But they owed us – sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.”

“The president took us into this war recklessly,” he added.

Webb ended the speech with a threat that underscored the end of Republican rule in Washington. He suggested that on these and other issues, Bush take “the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world.”

“If he does, we will join him,” Webb said. “If he does not, we will be showing him the way.”

The speech capped the Democrats’ effort to have the first, most frequent and last words on the president’s annual address, which Bush will deliver in the most unfriendly congressional environment of his tenure.

Seated in the gallery above the chamber will be a reminder of a key factor in the Republicans’ loss of congressional control and the lone veto of Bush’s presidency. Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, was attending as the guest of Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who is a quadriplegic, Langevin’s spokeswoman said.

Both men have health problems that some scientists believe might someday be cured or treated by embryonic stem cell research. Bush last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed taxpayer money to speed up those studies, arguing that public funds should not be spent on research that destroys budding human life.

Fox then appeared in several campaign commercials for candidates that support the bill, sparking a controversy and helping tilt the election in the Democrats’ favor. The House earlier this month passed the same bill by a margin far short of the two-thirds majority required to override a second veto.

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