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Congress Divided over the War in Iraq
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Congress Divided over the War in Iraq

Politics

Congress Divided over the War in Iraq

Congress Divided over the War in Iraq
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Federal lawmakers have approved more funds for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but some lawmakers want a debate on how long the United States should maintain its military presence in Iraq.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

For months, the Bush administration has had plenty of bad news. But this week, things look better.

Iraq finally has a new government, a key terrorist leader is dead, a cloud hanging over a top White House aide has lifted, and there is a slight up-tick in the president's poll numbers.

Joining me to talk about all this is NPR's National Political Correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON reporting:

Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what about those polls? Talk about that.

LIASSON: Well, the Gallop/USA Today poll does show an up-tick; it's been a trend. They had him as low as 31 percent; now his job approval ratings are up to 38. We don't know how long that trend will continue, but for now it is certainly welcome news at the White House.

WERTHEIMER: You've been covering a conference of progressives here in Washington this week, and for all the troubles that Republicans have had, it does sound like the Democrats are not exactly united either.

LIASSON: Certainly not on the war in Iraq. And yesterday, at that conference, the divide in the Democrat party on the war was laid out very clearly.

Hillary Clinton, who is currently the front-runner for the party's nomination in 2008 was booed when she reiterated her position on the war, which is that she does not believe it's the right strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal. Then, John Kerry, who was the 2004 candidate, who famously tied himself up in knots about the war back then, spoke, and he repudiated his vote on the war. He said he was wrong. He called for a six-month deadline for all troops to be withdrawn, and he was cheered.

Not all Democrats think that Kerry's position is the best one for Democrats in 2006, where a lot of the close House races are in swing districts and where immediate pullout is not necessarily the best position for the Democratic candidate. But up until now, Democrats have been content to stick to the one position they could be unified on, which is criticizing the Bush administration's handling of the war without specifying a strategy of their own. So this week in the Senate, Kerry is calling the question and Democratic leaders are trying to come up with some alternatives to his amendment. Everybody wants an exit strategy. The debate is over exactly what kind.

WERTHEIMER: Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to paint the Democrats as the cut-and-run party. Do you think that works?

LIASSON: Well, Republicans certainly think so. This is not new; Republicans have been doing this for quite some time. But this week in New Hampshire, Karl Rove gave a speech where he did call Democrats the cut-and-run party. He also said if Democrats had their way, Zarqawi would not have been killed.

That is going to be a Republican theme this year, especially if the situation in Iraq continues to improve.

WERTHEIMER: Now, with the Democrats apparently thinking that its not necessary to take a unified position on Iraq before the 2006 mid-term elections, does the party think it will be necessary, at some point, to resolve this issue?

LIASSON: Well, I think the issue is going to be resolved in the kind of debate you saw yesterday at that Take Back America Conference. It's going to be resolved probably among national Democrats vying for the party's nomination. This is the number one issue for the party's left-wing base. It's caused tremendous problems for Mrs. Clinton.

But we don't know what Iraq is going to look like in the winter of 2007-08, when Democrats and Republicans are in Iowa and New Hampshire, whether its going to be continued chaos or whether we're going to see a gradual and orderly pullout. But that's probably when it would be resolved.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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