GOP Support for Bush Iraq Plan Still Eroding

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Republicans are supporting the war in Iraq but not President Bush's prosecution of it. Republican lawmakers recently met with the president to emphasize that the war is hurting the party and that they need some sign of progress.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: Here in Washington, and around the country, there's growing frustration with the pace of progress in Iraq, which is an issue for lawmakers who are negotiating with the president on how to fund the war. It's also a major focus, of course, for the 2008 presidential candidates.

And let's get some analysis, as we do every Monday morning, from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: It seems like some candidates, particularly Republicans, are supporting the war, but not necessarily supporting the president's prosecution of it.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. As the White House and Congress are still negotiating on language on the war funding bill, and now we have the context of what's now a famous meeting of Republican lawmakers going to the White House last week and telling the president that the Iraq war is hurting the Republican Party - hardly a news flash there - but that they won't stick with the White House forever. They said that they need some sign of progress in Iraq. The administration has announced over the weekend that the U.S. will meet with Iran in Baghdad to talk about the Iraqi security. But it just, Steve, might be too late in terms of American politics.

As you said, even the Republican candidates who support the war went out on the Sunday TV talk shows yesterday to be very critical of how the administration has handled the war and the post-war in Iraq: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, all were critical on the shows. But that is kind of the end of where they agree with each other. They had all kinds of other questions that came up.

And Rudy Giuliani seems to be having trouble agreeing with himself on the question of abortion. He is really twisting himself into a pretzel on that question, giving various answers in various places over the last few days.

INSKEEP: Is Iraq the kind of issue that could lead somebody to try a third party presidential run?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that there are variety of issues that could do that. And we had Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska, Republican, talking about that yesterday on CBS. He has been become more and more of a gadfly in the Republican Party. And he was very critical of his party yesterday, he says it has been hijacked by isolationists. But he also talked, sort of enticingly, about a meeting that he has had with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, of course, once was a Democrat, became a Republican to run for mayor.

Hagel wouldn't say exactly what they talked about. But the mayor has been teasing reporters and voters on whether he's going to run for president or not. He says no, but he goes out around the country making national speeches and proposing national policies for the city. So I think that that's still sort of dangling out there, and the fact that Bloomberg is a billionaire means that he can decide this very late.

And Republicans, to some degree, are unhappy with their candidates. There's another Republican debate tomorrow in South Carolina where we can get another look at all of them. But the Democrats at the moment, Steve, are saying they're pretty happy with their candidates. They're not all that interested in the third party.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about one of those candidates - Barack Obama, the Illinois senator. He's been talking about raising this campaign.

ROBERTS: He, yesterday, gave a long interview on ABC where he said that if he loses, it won't be because of race. It will be because he has not adequately provided a vision of leadership. He did say that he has asked for security earlier than most candidates and he's uncomfortable about that, but he says some of the threats were racial.

But he was very interesting on the subjects on affirmative action. He said his daughters, for instance, should be considered somewhat privileged and not really candidates for an affirmative act as much as lower income white people. So he's once again just trying to bridge the gaps, bring people together, rather than emphasize the differences. And we'll see how that works in this campaign.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts giving us the latest on some of the many, many, many, many, many presidential candidates and possible presidential candidates.

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