Video: Bush set to detail his strategy in Iraq

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msnbc.com
updated 1/9/2007 8:09:17 AM ET 2007-01-09T13:09:17

With Democrats taking their first steps to formally rein in the Bush administration’s spending in Iraq, the president planned to go over their heads by taking his case for more troops to the American people in a nationally televised address this week.

White House press secretary Tony Snow would not reveal details of the president’s address, which was scheduled for 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, saying: “There will be a debate about the particulars in the way forward, as there should be. We welcome it.”

NBC News has reported that Bush is expected to ask for 20,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq and will announce a new program to speed reconstruction and provide jobs for Iraqis.

While Bush will pledge renewed support for the Iraqi  government, administration officials said, he will couple that support with a demand that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meet specific benchmarks for reducing sectarian violence.

End run around Congress
The president hopes to make an end run around skeptical Democratic leaders in Congress, who are warning that they could seek to choke off the funding for an expansion in Iraq, which they see as the only way to restrain the administration.

“The burden is on the president to justify any additional resources for a mission,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “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.”

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Bush in a letter last week that they opposed sending more U.S. forces to Iraq, but the comments Sunday by Pelosi were the first time the top Democratic leadership has embraced a proposal by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., to take formal action through the budget process. Video: Biden opposes troop surge in Iraq

The showdown is an early test of Pelosi’s and Reid’s leadership. Cutting off budget authorization for the new spending is a controversial proposal that is not endorsed by all Democrats, including some of the party’s leading spokesmen on foreign policy.

“It may not be politically smart or practically feasible for Congress to use its authority over the nation’s finances to control the president’s war strategy,” Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“He’s commander in chief,” said Biden, who announced his intentions Sunday to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand] or whatever number he’s going to into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake, in my view, but as a practical matter, there’s no way to say, ‘Mr. President, stop.’”

Clash with domestic initiatives
The confrontation also threatens to overshadow an ambitious agenda pushed by Democratic leaders, who had hoped to kick off the new Congress by emphasizing domestic policy. House lawmakers were planning to vote this week on an expansive list of initiatives, including:

  • Increasing the minimum wage.
  • Approving federal funding for embryonic stem cell research against Bush’s opposition.
  • Implementing security recommendations from put forth by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United Sates.

But the fanfare for those votes is being muted as Democratic leaders shift their emphasis, having concluded that the Iraq war and the president’s plans were bound to dominate the discussion.

In response, congressional leaders have changed their strategy to meet Bush head-on by pushing up confrontational hearings on Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s appearance before the House Armed Services Committee was abruptly moved up eight days to Thursday, the day after Bush’s address and the same day Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will testify before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Video: Graham: 'I support a surge in troops'

Democratic leaders concluded that the time is ripe to force Bush’s hand on Iraq as they assume power after an election that was seen as a resounding statement of public dissatisfaction with the war. They hope to move quickly as even some Republicans in Congress say the war has been a failure.

“In all honesty, we are not winning,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “And if you’re not winning, you’re losing. And now’s the time to come up with a strategy to win.”

Adding to the pressure are projections from military leaders that U.S. forces will face tough going even if Bush initiates what the administration is calling a “short-term surge” of 20,000 new troops.

“It might take another two or three years for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper hand,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said in an interview with The New York Times.

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