WASHINGTON — President Bush will address the nation at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday about his new approach for the war in Iraq, the White House said. Bush is expected to announce an increase of up to 20,000 additional U.S. troops.
Bush's decisions, more than two months in the making, already are drawing criticism from new Democratic leaders in Congress who say it is time to begin ending the war, not to send in more U.S. forces.
Now in its fourth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military and was a major factor in the Republicans' loss of Congress in the November election. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Bush in a letter last week that "we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success."
White House press secretary Tony Snow said Monday that Bush "understands there is a lot of public anxiety" about the war. On the other hand, he said that Americans "don't want another Sept. 11" type of terrorist attack and that it is wiser to confront terrorists overseas in Iraq and other battlegrounds rather than in the United States.
Snow said he contacted television networks Monday morning to request air time for the president's speech, to be delivered at the White House. He said the administration welcomes a debate about Bush's new policy.
"I think it's important to get congressional support," the spokesman said. Yet he would not say whether Bush will seek specific congressional approval for his new strategy.
"Rather than me jumping out and talking about resolutions and budget items and all that, I'm not going to do it," Snow said. "But there will be a debate about the particulars in the way forward, as there should be. We welcome it."
Democrats promise harsh scrutiny
Pelosi on Sunday cautioned Bush to think twice before proposing a troop increase, suggesting the new Democratic-controlled Congress could deny him the funding.
But the Senate's top Republican said he believed that Bush will get the money he needs and cast doubt that Democrats would - or could - block him. "Congress is incapable of micromanaging the tactics in the war," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In issuing her warning, Pelosi made clear that her party supported boosting the overall military size "to protect the American people against any threats to our interests" and would not cut off money for troops already in Iraq.
But Bush will not get a blank check for an open-ended commitment there, she said. Any funding he seeks for additional forces in Iraq - Bush's expected plan could send as many as 20,000 more U.S. troops - will get the "harshest scrutiny."
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"The burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "Congress is ready to use its constitutional authority of oversight to question what is the justification for this spending, what are the results we are receiving."
"There's not a carte blanche, a blank check for him to do whatever he wishes there," she added in an interview taped Saturday and broadcast Sunday.
Asked about Pelosi's remarks, White House spokesman Alex Conant said Bush welcomed any ideas on Iraq that "lead to success."
"We're glad the speaker wants us to succeed in Iraq," he said.
Record Iraq funding request pending
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved about $500 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and other terrorism-fighting efforts. The White House is working on its largest-ever appeal for more war funds - a record $100 billion, at least. It will be submitted along with Bush's Feb. 5 budget.
While leading Democrats reaffirmed their opposition to a troop buildup, several did not join Pelosi in suggesting it was possible Congress could deny Bush the money for the additional forces.
"I don't want to anticipate that," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a 2008 presidential candidate, said increasing troops would be a "tragic mistake." But he contended Congress was constitutionally powerless to second-guess Bush's military strategy because lawmakers had voted to authorize the commander in chief to wage war.
"As a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop,'" said Biden, D-Del., unless enough congressional Republicans join Democrats in persuading Bush that the strategy is wrong.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Bush in a letter last week that Democrats oppose additional U.S. forces in Iraq and want him to begin withdrawing in four months to six months American troops already there.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote in Sunday's Washington Post that boosting troops for an indefinite time was necessary to secure peace in the Mideast.
"When we authorized this war, we accepted the responsibility to make sure they could prevail," he wrote. "Even greater than the costs incurred thus far and in the future are the catastrophic consequences that would ensure from our failure in Iraq."
Pelosi spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation," McConnell and Hoyer appeared on "Fox News Sunday," and Biden was on NBC's "Meet the Press."
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