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President Urges Congress to Work with Him on Iraq Funding

April 27, 2007 at 6:05 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: With his veto pen at the ready, President Bush gives his reasons for rejecting a war spending bill tied to troop withdrawals. Mr. Bush spoke this morning from Camp David.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The reason why I’m going to is because the members of Congress have made military decisions on behalf of the military. They’re telling our generals what to do. They’re withdrawing before we’ve even finished reinforcing our troops in Baghdad.

They’re sending, in my judgment, a bad message to the Iraqis, and to an enemy, and, most importantly, to our military folks. I’m sorry it’s come to this. In other words, I’m sorry that we’ve, you know, had this, you know, the issue evolved the way it has.

But nevertheless, it is what it is, and it will be vetoed. And my veto will be sustained. And then the question is the way forward. And my suggestion is that — and I invite the leaders of the House and the Senate, both parties, to come down, you know, soon after my veto so we can discuss a way forward.

And if the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I’ll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won’t accept one. I just don’t think it’s in the interest of our troops.

You know, it’s important to have a political debate. But as I’ve consistently said, we don’t want our troops in between the debate. And Congress needs to get this money to the Pentagon, so the Pentagon can get the money to the troops, so our readiness will be up to par and people training missions will go forward.

Difficulty in reaching agreement

RAY SUAREZ: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And, Mark, we heard the president sounding rather glum and disappointed right then, but he also said, "I'm optimistic we can get a good bill." From what everybody involved is saying, does it sound like they can get a good bill out of this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It doesn't. The plans are that they'll vote on it next week, and the president's veto will be sustained. And there's supposed to be a meeting at the White House, a bicameral, bipartisan meeting to at least address it.

I really think that what will happen is that the Congress will then pass legislation that does include the benchmarks that the president himself laid out, specifically on January 10th in his speech to the nation, and that is that socializing, nationalizing the oil in Iraq, that every citizen gets revenues, that there be local elections, and the de-Baathification laws that would lead to reconciliation of many Sunnis.

I'll be very honest with you: I don't think that it's achievable. It's probably like asking George Bush at this point in his presidency, by the end of August, to pass an immigration bill that puts foreigners or immigrants on the way to citizenship, that solves Social Security, (inaudible) a consensus position on abortion, and I don't think the political capacity or capability in Iraq under the Iraqi government now is there to do it.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, David, a lot of the attention was on the president in the last day or so, but Democrats went ahead in the House and Senate, passed these bills in the face of the promised veto. Aren't they moving into risky territory now, making -- with the possibility of compromise looking like capitulation?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, they're in risky territory on a number of grounds. On the first grounds, people do want the troops funded. And at the end of the day, the Democrats will fund the troops. They've been quite open and honest about that.

The other risky ground is, do they seem too eager to be withdrawing? If there's disaster in six months, will they somehow assume part of the blame? I do think that's somewhat of a real risk.

Both sides have an incentive to compromise. The Democrats, you know, know that they have to fund the troops eventually. The Republicans don't want to keep taking votes like this, where they really aren't happy with Bush, but they have to stick with him more or less. So there's the incentives.

But as Mark indicated, the fundamental philosophies are different. The Democrats want to get out. They just want to get out of Iraq. The Republicans think the surge is having some modest effects and that it can lead to some longer political effects.

Ryan Crocker, our ambassador there, told me this week that he thinks what the Democrats are doing is making his job harder. His argument is that, when there's the threat of withdrawing, the Iraqis that he has to deal with every day, they say, "Why should I deal with you? You're out of here. I'm just going to hunker down and wait for the civil war."

So the Republicans do have an argument, and I suspect there will not be any compromise.

Democratic and Republican views

RAY SUAREZ: There was one small subplot this week, postponing sending the bill to the White House until the anniversary of the "Mission Accomplished" speech on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln. Is that a small bit of internecine political theater, or is that the kind of thing that reminds people next Tuesday that it has been four years since that speech?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is about politics. This is about sending a message. And I think the Democratic leaders are very clear about this. They say, it's not only this bill. There's going to be an appropriations bill. There's authorizations bills. For as far as the eye can see, there's a whole series of bills where the Democrats can make the Republican senators and House members uncomfortable.

MARK SHIELDS: And there's an awful lot of Republicans who have said, who have said bluntly, that they're counting on the surge, that the surge is it. And if, in fact, it's not successful, then you're going to see Republicans peeling away from the president. They're just out there.

If, Ray, all the legislative actions back and forth in the year 2007 mean nothing as we go into the election of 2008, and we're in a comparable position in Iraq, with 100,000-plus troops there, taking casualties every week, and with no apparent progress and that government, several governments having passed, at that point, you're looking at a Republican wipeout in 2008. And Republicans understand that.

Roy Blunt, the Republican whip in the House, said, this is going -- has to be improving results on the ground after the vote this week.

Parallels in American history

DAVID BROOKS: Right, it will have to be. And I think there could be some military results by August. The problem is, it has to be political.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right

DAVID BROOKS: And when you talk to people who are serving in Baghdad, they do see some military advances. But in terms of the Iraqis coming together with the de-Baathification laws and all that stuff, that's a decades-long process.

RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, do you agree with David, that if there's no timetable and benchmark in this bill that gets passed in whatever formed in the coming weeks, that that issue is going to keep coming back over months?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, it will. It will keep coming back, Ray. And what we're in right now is we're in that terrible place. David's absolutely right. The consensus in the country is the war is over. The people want out. A majority think we're not going to be successful there. A bigger majority want to leave.

But the key is, we've had the parallels in American history recently, where the political inquisition follows a seemingly inevitable defeat. Who lost China? Who lost Vietnam? Who lost Eastern Europe? Those plagued American politics for years after, and that's what both parties are sensitive to at this point.