Congress Watches Obama's Afghan Speech

President Obama outlined his strategy for Afghanistan on Tuesday, announcing he was sending an addition 30,000 troops to the country. The decision comes at a difficult time for many congressional lawmakers who see the war as a no-win quagmire.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

President Obama tonight outlined his revised strategy for the war in Afghanistan and includes a call for 30,000 additional troops, as we've been hearing.

We turn now to NPR congressional correspondent David Welna to talk about the reaction on Capitol Hill, where I imagine that people are very concerned about the price tag, David.

DAVID WELNA: Yes, Michele. You know, I talked with many members of Congress today about what President Obama was expected to say tonight. And what I got from them was, especially from Democrats, was a general sense of apprehension. And in many ways they were sort of saying to President Obama, you're on your own, buddy, on this one. We feel that

NORRIS: Even the Democrats saying that.

WELNA: Especially the Democrats. The Republicans, actually, are quite enthusiastic about stepping up the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. I think they really want to, sort of, vindicate the decision made back in 2001 to go in there and President Bush's direction of the war. And they have a certain stake in making this come out right.

Democrats have been skeptical of how President Bush handled the war, and I think they're even more skeptical about the prospects of this turning out the way that President Obama would like it to. And they're feeling a lot of pressure from constituents to get out now from Afghanistan.

The real question for Congress, though, is, you know, what are they going to be able to do about this? Because, really, their power is that of the purse strings. And they're going to be asked to come up with money to fund this expanded effort in Afghanistan. That may not come to a vote, though, until spring at the earliest.

And in the meantime, we're going to have many, many hearings tomorrow morning. We have a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there. Defense Secretary Gates is going to be there. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen is going to be there. He'll be before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon.

We're going to have hearings going on for days. This is going to be scrutinized, possibly like no other issue has been in Congress for a very long time.

NORRIS: Could it be also a game changer? I'm thinking about reaching back to when President George W. Bush was trying to sell the surge. There were a lot of people that were very skeptical, until General Petraeus showed up on Capitol Hill.

WELNA: Yes. Well, there's a lot of speculation about how the dynamic of these hearings could change the mood on the hill. I think looking at the speech tonight, we didn't get much of a sense of how this would play in Congress. However, you could see that there was a fairly grim mood in at West Point when the president was speaking.

This is not something that people are very happy about going forward with. But I guess that when we get General McChrystal on Capitol Hill, that would probably be next week at the earliest, we might see some kind of a reaction similar to that of General Petraeus coming up here to talk about Iraq.

NORRIS: That's NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. David, thank you very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Michele.

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