Capitol Hill in the past two weeks has been the scene for some of the most dramatic, and democratic, Senate hearings since the Watergate and Vietnam era.
The Democrats promised that when they took control of Congress, they were going to go over all aspects of the Iraq War with a fine-tooth comb, including increases to the number of troops in the field, and so far they've lived up to their promises.
The most divisive of all the hearings should have been those concerned with the president's plan to "surge" more than 20,000 extra troops into Iraq, mostly to try and quell the appalling daily violence filling Baghdad streets with blood and ruin.
But a growing number of Republicans are now joining the Democrats in their opposition to the troop "surge" plan. It is clear that the vast majority of Americans now want nothing more than for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, come what may, and this antipathy is clearly reaching the Republican senators, who are now jumping ship in greater and greater numbers.
But the president doesn't seem to care, nor mind. He has made it repeatedly clear that he is "The Decider" and the commander in chief, and he will do what he said he will, what he sincerely believes he must, in bringing the Iraq War to some kind of close that will allow the United States to claim a victory, of sorts.
The president will not be swayed, even by the opposition of Republican senators who backed the war from the beginning, and who've fought running media battles week in, week out, for the past four years, to keep the American public on side.
A battle they've clearly now lost.
The fight, as far as Congress is concerned, is not over, even if Bush seems remarkably unfazed by the massive falloff in support for the war from within his own party.
From Reuters (excerpts) :
President George W. Bush said on Wednesday "I don't feel abandoned" by fellow Republicans in Congress who are working with Democrats to protest his Iraq policy with a congressional resolution.
In a television interview, Bush shrugged off criticism of his plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq and said he hoped lawmakers would give U.S. forces what they needed to get the job done.
"I don't feel abandoned," Bush said on Fox News Channel's "Neil Cavuto" program.
"And what do you expect? When times are good, there's millions of authors of the plan. When times are bad, there's one author, and that would be me."
Some of Bush's Republican allies are breaking with him over Iraq as the war becomes more unpopular and his job approval numbers wane.
The Senate is poised to take up a resolution opposing Bush's new strategy with a debate expected next week.
At the White House, Bush met members of a congressional delegation that just returned from a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, a bipartisan group that included some of his sharpest critics on Iraq, like House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha.Bush last week called himself the "decision-maker" with the power to decide what to do with U.S. troops. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) said on Tuesday the president "is not the sole 'decider,"' that Congress had a role as well.
Bush said he saw the comment as Specter wanting to make sure Congress was heard.
"They get to decide funding levels, for example. And my hope is of course that they would make sure our troops have what it takes to do the jobs that I've asked them to do. But you shouldn't be surprised that members of the legislative body want to have input," Bush said.
With some in Washington predicting Bush only has four to six months to show his plan can work before demands grow for a U.S. disengagement from Iraq, Bush said he understands the skepticism.
He said he believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is starting to fulfill his pledges.
"I say he is in the process of performing. Well, let me tell you what that means. It means moving more Iraqi troops into Baghdad. It means going after murderers regardless of their religious persuasion," Bush said.
With two years left in office, Bush insisted he is not thinking about the end of his term and expressed no worries about his job approval numbers, which show barely a third of Americans like the job he is doing.
"I guess I could try to be popular. But I've always found that somebody who tries to be popular is one who may end up compromising principle, and I'm not that kind of person," he said.
And this from the Associated Press (excerpts) :
Two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq joined forces Wednesday, agreeing on a nonbinding resolution that would oppose the plan and potentially embarrass the White House.
Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., had been sponsoring competing measures opposing Bush's strategy of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war zone, with Warner's less harshly worded version attracting more Republican interest. The new resolution would vow to protect funding for troops while keeping Warner's original language expressing the Senate's opposition to the buildup.The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its potential appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The White House has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing Bush's handling of the war.
The agreement comes as several leading Republicans who support the troop buildup said they will give the administration and the Iraqis about six months to show significant improvement. Many other Republicans say they are deeply skeptical additional troops in Iraq, rather than a political settlement, would help calm the sectarian violence.In an interview with Fox News, Bush took issue with McConnell's statement that his plan needs to be successful over the next six to nine months.
"I think it's a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions because an enemy can adjust," Bush said. "On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency in Mitch's voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill. I mean, no doubt, there's a lot of pessimism there today."Bush also criticized a proposal by Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), a Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, to have all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008.
"I say that it's important to succeed and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos," Bush said.
"My admonition to those who are speaking out is let us back the troops and let us hope for the success" of their mission.
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