Everything is A-OK in Iraq
No Problems, All is going smoothly, more jobs for U.S., Iraq is Texas II
(Note John McCain likes Bush and Kerry likes John McCain)
WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) sought to rally Republican lawmakers around his Iraq (news - web sites) plan Thursday, saying Iraqis are ready to "take the training wheels off" by assuming some political power, but warning that violence is likely to worsen as that transfer approaches.
Bush Seeks to Rally GOP Around Iraq Plan
The president made a rare visit to Capitol Hill as lawmakers prepare to head to their home states for the Memorial Day recess.
"This has been a rough couple of months for the president, particularly on the issues of Iraq, and I think he was here to remind folks that we do have a policy and this policy is going to be tough," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. "Things, as I think he commented, are very likely to get worse before they get better."
Several members of Congress said Bush expressed his determination to stick to a June 30 date for handing partial governing authority to Iraqis.
"He talked about 'time to take the training wheels off,'" said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio. "The Iraqi people have been in training, and now it's time for them to take the bike and go forward."
It was the second year in a row that Bush met behind closed doors exclusively with his fellow Republicans just ahead of the congressional Memorial Day break. The stakes were especially high this year: Bush and most lawmakers face re-election, and Iraq is still plagued by chaos and violence six weeks before the United States cedes some power to Iraqis.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told a news conference, meanwhile, that Bush's Iraq policies show incompetence and the only conclusion to draw is that "the emperor has no clothes."
"I believe that the president's leadership and the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience," the California Democrat told reporters.
Some of the 200 or so Republicans emerging from the meeting said Bush's speech was a welcome pep talk, and they echoed the White House line on key issues.
"It was a good team meeting," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va. "There are those who will question whether or not we will stay and fight" in Iraq, Allen said.
Referring indirectly to the prisoner-abuse scandal, Allen added: "Of course the president believes that those who are serving very honorably ought to have our gratitude and appreciation."
Some in Congress, including Republicans, have criticized the Bush administration for not keeping Congress abreast of the cost of the Iraq war and reconstruction, the abuse of Iraqi detainees and the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government.
But Allen said there was no dissent in the room Thursday morning.
"None that I heard," Allen said. Bush was interrupted by applause "probably dozens of times, and several standing ovations," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flashed two thumbs up as he left. "It was a pep talk for Republicans," he said. "He laid out a pretty strong case for staying the course in Iraq."
McCain said the president did not mention in any detail the prison abuse scandal in Iraq, nor did he take questions on that or any other topic. "Nothing you haven't heard before," McCain said.
Several lawmakers came out of the meeting parroting a favorite White House figure: more than 1 million jobs created in recent months.
"We'll probably see another 300,00-400,000 created over the next couple of months," said Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire. "Obviously, the economy's on the way to recovery."
Arriving at the Capitol on Thursday morning, the president strode through the hallways flanked by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
He left with his arm around Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. White House aides positioned reporters and photographers in a corridor to record these scenes projecting unity. But Bush ignored journalists' questions.
With the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq fewer than six weeks away, Bush's schedule is intently focused on the war.
Later Thursday, Bush's defense secretary was escorting top generals from the Iraq campaign to talk to a bipartisan Senate briefing.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was to brief all senators in a secure room at the Capitol. Attending with him were Gen. John Abizaid, commander of American troops in the Middle East region; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander in Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, head of prison operations in Iraq.
On Monday, Bush visits the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., to give the first in a series of speeches laying out the details of the handover of political power, a senior administration official said.
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