House Dems back resolution against troop buildup |

House Dems back resolution against troop buildup

WASHINGTON – Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged the support of House Democrats on 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 when the issue comes before Congress.”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 commander in chief.Senate Democrats, backed by two Republicans, presented 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, D-Calif., offered no indication Congress will be able to prevent Bush from carrying out his plan.She did not directly address the issue when asked. 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 will not support any attempt to cut off funds for troops already deployed.Democratic leaders have not said when they intend to seek votes on their legislation. 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.Sen. Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the committee this coming Wednesday will debate the measure criticizing Bush’s troop escalation.Republicans in both the House and Senate are expected to draft alternative legislation, in part to give their members a measure to support rather than merely oppose what Democrats draft. Officials said one possibility under discussion is a version that supports the troop increase as long as the Iraqi government meets certain conditions. 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.”Smith said later in the day he is working with other lawmakers on a separate measure opposing the president’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.One 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 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 met with House Republicans in the Capitol.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, D-W.Va., said in the full Senate.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.”—Associated Press writers Barry Schweid, Jennifer Talhelm and Fred Frommer contributed to this report.

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