Bush Decries 'Political Dance' with Democrats

At a White House news conference, President Bush covers a variety of subjects. He says Democrats who have declined to pass a war-spending bill satisfactory to the administration are wasting their time.

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President Bush yesterday accused members of Congress of not doing their jobs. They haven't sent him legislation to fund U.S. troops in Iraq, and he said if they don't act soon the military will have to begin scraping for cash and possibly pulling money out of programs to train and equip National Guard units and Reserves. Mr. Bush spoke during a press conference as he prepared to leave Washington for his Easter break.

As NPR's David Greene reports, the session was a little unusual.

DAVID GREENE: Yesterday seemed like a natural day for a regular news conference. The president's last one was Valentine's Day, about six weeks ago. Mr. Bush is departing today for a stop in California and a five-day Easter break in Texas. So he invited reporters into the Rose Garden, where typically they would have mikes with which to question the president. At that last session in February, the questions were clearly audible, like this:

Unidentified Woman (Reporter): Mr. President, do you agree with the National Intelligence Estimate that we are now in a civil war in Iraq?

GREENE: But yesterday Mr. Bush may not have been in the mood for something so formal. Whatever the reason, there were no chairs and no mikes. Reporters stood and tried to make themselves heard, even by the president himself.

Unidentified Woman (Reporter): Thank you sir. (Unintelligible) in the context of the international conferences on Iraq?

President BUSH: Excuse me?

Unidentified Woman #2: You have reached...

GREENE: The question was why is the White House so upset that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to go to Syria? Pelosi arrived yesterday, did some sightseeing and planned today to meet with Syria's president, Bashar Assad. Mr. Bush said her visit is not helpful because it sends mixed signals to a government he's been trying to isolate.

President BUSH: And by that I mean, you know, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community.

GREENE: Pelosi, for her part, said she had no illusions about Syria, but held out hope that engaging Iraq's neighbors might do some good, much as the Iraq Study Group recommended.

One of the reporters in the Rose Garden yesterday was Bret Baier, from Fox News. He brought up some recent comments made by General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general was talking about the U.S. military's don't ask, don't tell policy, and said he thinks homosexuality is immoral. The Fox reporter was lucky enough to be near a microphone when he raised this issue with the president.

Mr. BRET BAIER (Reporter, Fox News): Do you, sir, believe that homosexuality is immoral?

President BUSH: I - my... I will not be rendering judgment about individual orientation. I do believe the don't ask, don't tell policy is good policy.

GREENE: Mr. Bush was also asked if he's aware of the current price of gasoline in the country.

President BUSH: About $2.60 plus.

GREENE: The former oilman also had some thoughts on why prices are high, even before the summer driving season.

President BUSH: And the price of crude oil is on the rise. And the price of crude oil is on the rise because people get spooked, for example, when there comes - when it looks like there may be a crisis with a crude oil-producing nation like Iran.

GREENE: The president didn't elaborate on the current showdown over 15 British sailors and Marines being held by Iran. Clearly, the idea the White House wanted to emphasize yesterday was Mr. Bush's warning to Democrats about recent votes on Iraq. Both the House and Senate have passed war funding bills with timetables for bringing U.S. combat troops home. The president said neither of the bills is acceptable, so Congress should get on with its work and let him get on with his.

President BUSH: They need to come off their vacation, get a bill to my desk, and if it's got strings and mandates and withdrawals and pork, I'll veto it and then we can get down to business of getting this thing done. And we can do it quickly.

GREENE: If it's not done quickly, the president argued, the military will be strapped for cash in the middle of a war. Essentially, Mr. Bush's argument boiled down to this: until Democrats cave and remove language about troop withdrawals, they're just wasting their time.

President BUSH: And no question there's been a political dance going on here in Washington. You follow this closely; you know what I'm talking about.

GREENE: Mr. Bush will resume his part in the political dance today, speaking at Fort Irwin in California, and next week when he and lawmakers return to Washington.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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Bush Blasts Democrats' War Funds Bill, Vows Veto

President Bush used the bully pulpit in the Rose Garden Tuesday to renew his defense of his troop build-up in Iraq and repeat his vow to veto any spending bill for the war that contains a timetable for withdrawal.

At a White House news conference held on a sunny spring morning, Mr. Bush accused Democrats in Congress of being "more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need."

The House and Senate have approved separate measures to fund the war for the rest of the fiscal year, along with domestic programs that the president has derided as pork. Both measures also include a timeline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

The House sets a firm deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for all U.S. troops to be withdrawn, while the Senate sets an earlier but less stringent "goal" of March 31, 2008. The Senate bill also stipulates that the withdrawal begin within 120 days of the bill's enactment.

The president labeled the measures a political statement and said they were within the rights of Congress as such. He then urged Democratic congressional leaders to "send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible" when they return from their Easter recess.

"I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay," the president said.

Congress is likely to send the bill with a timetable to the president soon. But first, House and Senate members of the Appropriations committees must reconcile the two different versions of the bills, which won't happen until lawmakers return to Washington. The Senate is to resume work the week of April 9th, the House the following week. Neither chamber approved their own funding bills with anything close to the two-third majorities necessary to override a veto, so President Bush is sure to win the first round of the looming showdown.

But that will leave the military without the supplemental spending bill required to continue present operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What happens next, though, will be more significant and more difficult to predict.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have both given at least lip service to the notion of negotiating with the president on the issue of a troop withdrawal timeline. It's difficult to see Democrats in either chamber giving in to the president and sending him the clean bill he is seeking.

So the question is whether the two sides can find some kind of middle ground acceptable to both Democrats, who want troops back from Iraq tomorrow, and the president, who insists they stay until he judges their mission is complete.

A new element in the mixture was added on Monday, when Reid announced he was signing on to a bill sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russell Feingold that calls for Congress to end funding for the war by the end of next March. That measure appears to go beyond what many Democrats (and nearly all Republicans) have been willing to support up to now. Yet Reid's move may be indicative of the direction his colleagues are heading.

At his news conference, President Bush also criticized House Speaker Pelosi for traveling to Syria, where she is scheduled to meet with President Bashar Assad on Wednesday. The president said he opposes all visits by high-ranking U.S. officials to Syria, because, he said, they "lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror."

Pelosi, whose visit to Syria follows that of three Republican members of Congress, had earlier shrugged off the White House criticism, saying it was an "excellent idea" for her and other lawmakers to go there.

"We have no illusions, but great hopes" for talks with Assad, Pelosi said. She also noted that contacts with Iraq's neighbors had been among the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group last year.

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