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Debates Continue in Congress over Iraq, Attorney Firings

Political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the House bill passed on Friday requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the fall of 2008 and the constitutional showdown between the president and Congress over the firing of U.S. attorneys.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

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

    Mark, how important was this vote in the House today, setting a deadline for the troops to withdraw from Iraq?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think it is significant, Jim. And I think it will be proved significant over the next several months.

    I think it is the first time the Congress has used its power to cut off — its power of budget appropriations — to express its opposition to the president's policies in Iraq, which have lost the confidence of two out of three Americans, and the first time the Congress has gone on record.

    And I think this is the high watermark you will see legislatively and politically for the president's — in the Congress — for the president's policies. I think, from here on in, the erosion will all be away from the president and toward those who oppose the war.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree? The erosion has begun; this was the high watermark for the president?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    If this is the high watermark, it's ankle deep, maybe toe deep.

    No, I don't think it was terribly significant. It was politically impressive that Nancy Pelosi was able to unite the Democrats behind the bill. But what is going to matter is what is going to happen in Iraq. And this bill will not have any effect in law, because it will not turn into law.

    What will happen — what will matter is what is happening in the surge. And the surge will either be successful by mid-August, in which case Republicans and Democrats will probably want to stay, or it will be unsuccessful, and Republicans and Democrats will probably want to go.

    What was said in this debate I think was hermetically sealed from what is actually happening in Iraq. The messages from the surge are very mixed. We saw how tough it is in that last report.

    There was a very fascinating piece on the front page of The New York Times today talking about, now, that it is much calmer in Baghdad, families flowing in, in some cases, be able to go back to their neighborhood, in other cases, snipers actually killing the families that are trying to go back.

    So, you get some optimistic messages, but extremely preliminary. If you can reconstitute those neighborhoods and the surge does succeed in Baghdad, then it will look very different in four months. If it doesn't succeed, if we continue chaos, than this vote won't matter.