Bush Speech Draws Partisan Reaction on Hill

To observe the split reaction last night to President Bush's speech, you only had to look at the two people seated behind him. On one side, Vice President Cheney was often applauding. On the other side, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was not.

House Democrat Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a close Pelosi ally, said it was a nice gesture for the president to acknowledge her being the first female speaker. But Van Hollen said Mr. Bush could have said more about how much Pelosi has accomplished already:

"Not a word from the president acknowledging the work the speaker has done in these first 100 hours in moving the Congress, in many cases on a bipartisan basis, to support many of these initiatives," Van Hollen noted. "And it was just a great opportunity for the president to extend a hand of partnership and say I want to be a partner in change."

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of the Democratic leadership team, said Mr. Bush simply did not want to acknowledge how much the political tables have turned:

"I thought the president got a very tepid response tonight because the voters in November really asked for change, and we didn't hear much of that, if any, in the president's speech tonight," Murray said.

The Democrats' official response to the speech came from Virginia freshman Sen. Jim Webb, the father of a Marine currently posted in Iraq. Webb, a former Republican who has opposed the war from the start, accused President Bush of recklessly taking the nation to war, and of holding the nation hostage to the disarray that's followed.

"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military, nor does the majority of Congress," Webb asserted. "We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will, in short order, allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

The Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said the war seemed to take its toll on Mr. Bush himself last night.

"I've never heard a more dispirited presentation," Durbin said. "It was flat. I think the president has been weighed down by the reality of this war and the cost of it and the understanding that the strategy that he's now recommending is a high-risk strategy not supported by the Iraqis, American people, or most of his generals."

But Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL), who chairs the House Republican Conference, heard a completely different speech than what Durbin heard.

"I thought the president did a great job of coming in and sticking to his core convictions. He didn't trim the sails a bit, despite all the pre-speech hype about... the challenge he faced of a skeptical Congress and poor approval ratings," Putnam said.

And Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) heard a warning to Congress not to meddle with Iraq policy.

"The president made a very persuasive case for supporting this effort, and implicit in that was not to pass resolutions that would discourage our troops or embolden our enemies," Kyl said.

But other Republicans, many of them facing tough re-election bids next year, said the president had not changed their minds about opposing his troop buildup in Iraq. One of them is Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).

"He's not gonna move me," Coleman said. "I still have a concern about a surge of troops in Baghdad, I have a concern about a surge of troops in the middle of sectarian violence when I haven't seen the commitment on the part of the Iraqis to deal with that."

Coleman insisted that political considerations had nothing to do with his decision to oppose the troop buildup, which prolongs the Iraq tour of a Minnesota Army National Guard unit. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said that, in the end, Iraq was on everyone's mind last night.

"I'm not sure if the polls will change as a result of this speech, but I think they will have some positive movement because the president was resilient in his call for success and Americans love victory and hate defeat," he said.

Still, what really matters, McHenry said, is what happens on the ground in Iraq.

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