White House Mood in Wake of Abramoff Deal

Alex Chadwick and David Greene discuss what's happening at the White House in the wake of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea bargain deal. The one-time "super lobbyist" pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials, and has been closely linked to some key Bush administration GOP allies.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

As we heard earlier, President Bush mourned the loss of the miners today in an appearance at the Pentagon. He was there for a briefing on the war in Iraq. After a private session with top civilian and military leaders, Mr. Bush said he was pleased with progress in Iraq. Joining us to talk about the president's remarks is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

David, how much did the president share about this briefing, this secret briefing he'd just gotten?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Hi, Alex. Well, the briefing itself was classified and the president came out afterwards and delivered what sounded like remarks that were mostly in the works before he even sat down for the briefing but he said he got a message of progress from his military advisers. He said that 2005 was a year of progress on the political front. He spoke about high turnout at the elec--during the elections in Iraq and he spoke a lot about the training of Iraqi forces and said they're getting into a position where they can take over the security of their country. Upwards of 50 Iraqi battalions, he said, have now taken a leading role in operations in the country.

CHADWICK: So did he talk about the violence in Iraq in recent days? And today, I think, 30 mourners killed at a funeral there in Iraq, and a convoy attacked? It's still not safe.

GREENE: Indeed, it's not, and one of the challenges for the president has been that those images, when they're beamed back to Americans, can tell a very different story. He--the president spoke about challenges that he says remain in Iraq, but he, as he rarely does, did not speak directly to the suicide bombing that you spoke of or any other recent bloodshed itself in the country.

CHADWICK: How about numbers in another respect, that would be bringing home the extra US soldiers the US had sent in for the election, and maybe more?

GREENE: Yeah, you know, Alex, he didn't announce anything new. The Pentagon had spoken about bringing some troops home, but it was clear the president today wanted the words `troops coming home' to come out of his mouth. He mentioned that the number of US brigades might drop from 17 to 15 this year. He said additional US forces who were there for the election last month are coming home and that troops are even going to drop below the 138,000 baseline that has been in Iraq for some time now.

CHADWICK: And he mentioned troop levels, US troops levels, in Afghanistan, too.

GREENE: He did, as--he did speak about Afghanistan as well, and he said that in Afghanistan NATO forces as well as Afghan forces are taking a much bigger role and the troops could--US troops could come down to about 16,500 down from 19,000 this year. Again, the Pentagon had already talked about that, but the president wanted to say those numbers himself.

CHADWICK: Vice President Cheney was there with Mr. Bush at the Pentagon today, and he, too, will be speaking about Iraq today.

GREENE: He will. He's going to be over at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, speaking to a conservative organization, and this is a place where Cheney is often very forthright about what's on his mind, and he's going to be talking about several issues that could present some real challenges for the White House in coming weeks, including the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism law that the president wants Congress to renew, as well as the big controversy over the domestic wiretapping program that the president authorized several years ago. So the president talking about troop levels; Cheney over at The Heritage Foundation confronting critics.

CHADWICK: David Greene, NPR White House correspondent.

Thank you, David.

GREENE: My pleasure, Alex.

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