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Congress Reacts to State of the Union Address

January 24, 2007 at 11:15 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: During last night’s primetime address, President Bush pleaded with members of Congress for patience when considering his plan to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq. And he reminded many of them that they authorized the initial invasion with their use-of-force vote in 2002.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We went into this largely united in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work.

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats from both chambers and an increasing number of Republicans have argued that the president will simply be sending more troops into the crossfire of a civil war. Mr. Bush, however, made it clear he had no intention of changing course.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success.

Reactions the night of the speech

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats from the House who spoke to the NewsHour's Kwame Holman following the speech said the president was ignoring the message American voters sent last November. David Wu of Oregon.

REP. DAVID WU (D), Oregon: I don't know what voices the president has been listening to on Iraq, but it's not the voice of the American people, it's not the voice of our professional military, and it's certainly not this Congress. This escalation is coming out of nowhere. He made the decision alone.

RAY SUAREZ: California's Barbara Lee.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), California: It's a shame and disgrace. And I think the country should be very, very vigilant now, in terms of what we need to do to make sure that we prevent this war from escalating.

RAY SUAREZ: But many House Republicans came away from the speech with a different view. Virginia's Eric Cantor is a member of the GOP leadership.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), Virginia: Obviously, the situation in Iraq hasn't gone as well as we would have hoped, but the bottom line, I think the president said, Americans are not quitters. They don't want us to fail. And I think what he did tonight is he tried to lay out the consequences of our failure and really the nature of the enemy that we face, both in Iraq and around the world.

GEORGE W. BUSH: This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won, yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk.

RAY SUAREZ: And California's Duncan Hunter said it's not at all helpful for the Democrats to attack a plan that's already under way.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: I think it's a mistake for Congress, while a battle plan now is being carried out, for us to be appear to be fractured as a government, to beat up on the plan, to beat up on the president, let's all go together.

RAY SUAREZ: That sentiment was not shared by freshman Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. The former Navy secretary and Vietnam veteran delivered the Democrats' official response to the president's speech.

SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), Virginia: We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism, not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos, 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.

The Senate's nonbinding resolution

RAY SUAREZ: By this morning, Webb and his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were forging ahead on that new direction, with debate and votes on a resolution opposing the president's planned troop increase. The nonbinding measure expresses the Senate's reticence toward the so-called surge that the president has already begun to implement.

Committee chairman and resolution co-sponsor Joe Biden.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: Unless the president demonstrates very quickly that he is unlikely to continue down the road he's on, this will be only the first step in this committee.

RAY SUAREZ: But the ranking Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar, roundly rejected the resolution and its intended effect.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: In this case, we are laying open our disunity, without the prospect that the vehicle will achieve meaningful changes in our policy. This vote will force nothing on the president, but it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray.

RAY SUAREZ: Lugar's comments elicited a blistering response from the resolution's lone Republican sponsor, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: These young men and women that we put in Anbar province in Iraq, in Baghdad, are not beans. They're real lives.

And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.

We better be as sure as you can be -- and I want every one of you, every one of us, 100 senators, to look in that camera, and you tell your people back home what you think. Don't hide any more, none of us.

That is the essence of our responsibility. And if we're not willing to do it, we're not worthy to be seated right here.

RAY SUAREZ: At one tine, Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman also supported the resolution, but was swayed by the president's plea last night.

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), Minnesota: I'm not ready to pull the plug. I'm not ready to admit that we can't have success. And I want us to darn sure understand the consequence of failure when we say and do what we're going to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold followed, and scolded his colleagues for not doing enough to stop the war in Iraq, and called on the senators to cut funding for the American presence there.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: ... we were in the majority when this war was approved. We have a responsibility, as Democrats and Republicans in the Congress of the United States, to stop this thing now.

These proposals simply don't do it. I think they are perfectly fine steps in the right direction, but this is the moment to do something serious.

RAY SUAREZ: The nonbinding resolution opposing the president's troop increase ultimately was approved by the committee 12-9, with Sen. Hagel the only Republican joining the majority Democrats. However, efforts by Senators Feingold and Connecticut's Chris Dodd to require the president to abide by specific troop and funding limits were set aside.