House Democrats oppose troop buildup


Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 10:46 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged the support of House Democrats Thursday for legislation declaring that President Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest of the United States."

Pelosi's commitment came as Senate Democrats said they intend to begin advancing a nonbinding measure next week that criticizes the White House's new strategy.

Democrats sought to bring public pressure to bear on the president's new policy as Bush and senior administration officials worked to limit Republican defections.

"He said, 'If you can help us out, I really appreciate your help,'" Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said after a White House meeting with the president.

Senate Democrats, backed by two Republicans, unveiled legislation Wednesday that criticized Bush's decision to increase troop levels by 21,500. "It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq," the nonbinding Senate measure states.

At a news conference, Pelosi read those words aloud approvingly, and said, "That resolution will be supported by Democrats in the House."

At the same time, Pelosi offered no indication that Congress will be able to prevent Bush from carrying out his plan. She did not directly address the issue when asked, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House majority leader, said, "As a practical matter, we know that the president has the constitutional authority ... to increase the troops."

Democratic leaders in both houses have said repeatedly they won't support any attempt to cut off funds for troops who already have been deployed.

Democratic leaders have not said when they intend to seek votes on their legislation, and Senate Republicans have maneuvered successfully to avoid the spectacle of a repudiation of the president before he delivers his annual State of the Union address next Tuesday.

Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel will debate the measure criticizing Bush's troop escalation on Wednesday.

Republicans in both houses are expected to draft alternative legislation, in part to give members of their rank-and-file a measure to support rather than merely oppose what Democrats draft. Officials said one possibility under discussion is an alternative that supports the troop increase as long as the Iraqi government meets certain conditions, although no final decisions have been made.

Whenever the votes occur, administration supporters have expressed fears that the president faces a bipartisan repudiation of significant proportions.

So far, Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine are the only Republicans to announce their backing for the Senate measure. A third lawmaker, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., signaled during the day he is giving serious consideration to joining them.

"Senator Smith is opposed to a troop surge," said his spokesman, R.C. Hammond. "He is very open to serious ways that Congress can influence the president's Iraq strategy."

Another Republican critic of Bush's policy, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, said: "I don't support the surge in Baghdad, but there are some things in the resolution I don't agree with, and so we're kind of looking at language."

Bush's meeting with lawmakers was his third session in as many days as he struggles to build support for an increase in troops for a war that is opposed by the public and played a role in the Republican setbacks in last fall's elections.

In addition, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley traveled to the Capitol to meet with House Republicans.

Complicating Bush's political predicament is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has said in recent days that the United States is not providing enough training and equipment for Iraqi forces.

"He's been constantly asking for an upgrade of troops as well as equipment, and we're providing that," Bush told Belo Corp. television in an interview.

"We may not be providing as quickly as he wants. But nevertheless it's a good sign when the prime minister says just give us the capabilities, and that's precisely what my new strategy and new plan is attempting to do."

Bush defended al-Maliki against skeptics by saying that Iraqi forces now are going after all people "who are fomenting the violence."

Democrats have grown increasing critical of Bush's Iraq policy. "This president has taken the nation through a failed war," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd in remarks on the Senate floor.

Four retired senior U.S. military officers criticized the administration's strategy at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

"It's a fool's errand," said Gen. Barry McCaffrey. "Our allies are leaving us," he said. "Make no mistake about that. Most will be gone by this summer."

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, said, "The new strategy reflects the inability of the administration to get it right." He said, "The proposed solution to send in more troops won't work. It is far too little and too late."

Hagel, long a critic of the war, said the administration's plans are doomed. "We are in a box, and putting our soldiers and Marines in more of a box and asking them to do things they cannot do," he said.

The committee's senior Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said the Democratic-inspired legislation was unlikely to have any impact on Bush.

Describing the environment as politically charged, Lugar said, "We risk having reasoned debate descend into simplistic sloganeering."

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