Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged the support of House Democrats Thursday for legislation declaring that President Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest of the United States."
Pelosi's commitment came as Senate Democrats said they intend to begin advancing a nonbinding measure next week that criticizes the White House's new strategy.
Democrats sought to bring public pressure to bear on the president's new policy as Bush and senior administration officials worked to limit Republican defections.
"He said, 'If you can help us out, I really appreciate your help,"' Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said after a White House meeting with the commander in chief.
Presidential authority admitted
Senate Democrats, backed by two Republicans, unveiled legislation Wednesday that criticized Bush's decision to increase troop levels by 21,500. "It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq," the nonbinding Senate measure states.
At a news conference, Pelosi read those words aloud approvingly, and said, "That resolution will be supported by Democrats in the House."
At the same time, Pelosi offered no indication that Congress will be able to prevent Bush from carrying out his plan.
She did not directly address the issue when asked, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House majority leader, said, "As a practical matter, we know that the president has the constitutional authority ... to increase the troops."
Democratic leaders in both houses have said repeatedly they will not support any attempt to cut off funds for troops who already have been deployed.
That position appears designed in part to blunt political attacks against rank-and-file Democrats from political swing districts. But it has also produced expressions of frustration from anti-war organizations.
"The president has bound this nation to a catastrophic policy and has bound our soldiers to a hellish nightmare in Iraq. We believe that it is imperative, therefore, that members of the House and Senate take binding action that requires the administration to reverse course in Iraq," Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said in a written appeal to Senate Democrats. The organization describes itself as the nation's largest anti-war coalition.
Democratic leaders have not said when they intend to seek votes on their legislation, and Senate Republicans have maneuvered successfully to avoid the spectacle of a repudiation of the president before he delivers his annual State of the Union address next Tuesday.
Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel will debate the measure criticizing Bush's troop escalation on Wednesday.
Republicans in both houses are expected to draft alternative legislation, in part to give members of their rank-and-file a measure to support rather than merely oppose what Democrats draft. Officials said one possibility under discussion is an alternative that supports the troop increase as long as the Iraqi government meets certain conditions, although no final decisions have been made.