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Congress Set to Renew Debate on Iraq
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Congress Set to Renew Debate on Iraq

Congress Set to Renew Debate on Iraq

Congress Set to Renew Debate on Iraq
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Congress returns to a busy fall agenda that will include reaction to the so-called Petraeus report on Iraq. But if Democrats want to alter President Bush's policy they will need to round up Republican support.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We'll go next to NPR's Cokie Roberts for some analysis. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How persuadable are those wavering Republicans the president is counting on to keep some support for him in Congress?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think they are persuadable. Not necessarily persuadable to support the war and the president's policy, but persuadable to keep from voting with Democrats on a withdrawal plan or a time-certain withdrawal plan. You know, the Democrats, as you know, Steve, were planning to use this August recess to beat up on the Republicans, to get their constituents to beat up on the Republicans, so that enough Republicans would vote with the Democrats so that they could get some sort of a withdrawal plan in place.

And the opposite seems to have happened. A lot of members of Congress, as Don Gonyea just alluded to, have been to Iraq over this time period and some have come back saying, well, in fact, the security situation does appear to be better. The political situation is a still a disaster but the security situation does appear to be better.

Also this is not the only public relations drive that the president has put on. This is the end of it, going to Iraq today. Before that he has had speeches to very friendly groups - the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion. And there have been ads from groups supportive of the president running in the districts of some of these key Republicans, or the states in the case of the Senate. And all of that seems to have had an effect, so much so that instead the Democrats saying, okay, we're coming back with lots of Republicans on our team, the Democrats are coming back saying, look, the Republicans are now - we're going to have to negotiate with the Republicans.

INSKEEP: Although you do have some key Republicans influential and respected, like Richard Lugar or John Warner of Virginia, who have said that they are not happy at all with the course the president is taking.

ROBERTS: They are not happy with the course the president is taking. And John Warner, who said he would like to see, at least symbolically, some troops home by Christmas, mainly to put pressure on the Iraqi government, to show them that we mean it.

But he also, since he made that statement, has announced that he's not going to run for reelection in 2008. And that's going to be interesting to watch, Steve, because Virginia has been a difficult State. Senator Warner, if he had abandoned the president, could expect a primary challenge on the Republican side, but if he had not abandoned the president could expect serious challenge on the Democratic side. Now he doesn't have to worry about any of that and it will be interesting to see what role he plays.

INSKEEP: So you have Democrats who have majorities in Congress but not veto-proof majorities; they couldn't overwrite a presidential veto without Republican help. After months and months of trying, to the exclusion, in some people's views, of other issues, are they any closer to actually changing the fundamental debate on Iraq?

ROBERTS: Well, I think in some ways the fundamental debate on Iraq has been changed. And I don't think there's anybody in the White House or in the State Department or Defense Department that isn't preparing for some sort of withdrawal. But it's a question of when and how and what is left in terms of the situation on the ground in Iraq.

What the Democrats are hoping now, in anticipation of this much anticipated report from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, is to have a series of hearings, high-level hearings, this week and next where they point out a lot of the problems, which have been reported in a congressional report, in the National Intelligence Estimate, and then finally in the reports coming from Petraeus and Crocker themselves.

And that maybe just laying on how difficult the situation still is in Iraq and how little progress is being made, that maybe that will sway some wavering Republicans. But in terms of actual votes they don't have them. And, really, the thing to watch now will be to see what the votes are on the president's expected new request for $50 billion more for Iraq.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's analysis from NPR's Cokie Roberts on this day when we've learned that President Bush is visiting Iraq. He traveled to the western part of country to Anbar province, where there's been lots of violence but also some reports of progress.

This morning we're also following the story of an American imprisoned in Iran and now freed. Haleh Esfandiari is a scholar who was born in Iran. She was detained by Iranian officials who accused her of trying to create a so-called soft revolution.

Today we're told that after holding her for months, Iranian officials let her leave the country. She picked up her passport and flew to Austria, where her sister lives. Now her mother had to put up bail for Esfandiari, and her lawyer has said in the past that even if she leaves the country, she may have to return to face trial on espionage charges. She is, though, expected to be reunited with her husband this week.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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