Bush Maintains Opposition to Iraq Bill
ALEX COHEN, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is out on assignment. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm the other Alex, Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, just how ready is the National Guard for the just announced redeployments to Iraq?
COHEN: But first, President Bush sticks by his guns on funding the war in Iraq. He says he'll sit down with Democrats next week to discuss the issue. The White House, though, made it clear that the meeting will not be a negotiation about a timetable for withdrawing American troops. The president spoke today at an American Legion Hall in Virginia.
Joining us to discuss the impasse over Iraq is NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, the president…
DON GONYEA: Hi.
COHEN: Hi. How are you?
GONYEA: Good. Good.
COHEN: Good. The president said he has at least agreed to meet with the Democrats. Correct?
GONYEA: He has but, as you said, not to negotiate. He wants them to come to the White House so he can explain exactly what kind of bill he will support. But before that meeting, you know, the PR machine continues to work, and that's why we get speeches like this morning's before this American Legion audience - at this American Legion post in Virginia. And his message there was very well received. Again, he likes to do this kind of speech before veterans group. And what he did today was repeat his threat to veto either of the bills that the House and Senate have already passed. He said should either of those bills make it to his desk in the current form, that there would be a veto. Here is the president this morning.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Democrats who passed these bills know that I'll veto them, and they know that this veto will be sustained. Yet they continue to pursue the legislation. And as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field.
GONYEA: So, you know, afterward, we did talk to some veterans at the Legion Hall. And one 91-year-old veteran of World War II said hey, there's one commander in chief. The Congress has to go to the president what he wants. But another Vietnam-era vet said that while the troops need the funds, both sides need to give something, that the Democrats have a mandate from the election last November as well. So that was kind of the feeling, though again, it was a very friendly audience.
COHEN: So that's some opinions there from the veterans. What kind of reaction do you think he'll be getting when he actually meets with Democratic leaders?
GONYEA: They know what the president wants in this bill, and they have not given it to him, you know, because of the way the process has worked out. And they feel they need to make a statement as well. When the White House spokesperson said today that this is not a negotiation next week, a reporter in the front row asked, oh, so the president wants them to come to the White House so they can just agree with what he wants? And the spokesperson, Dana Perino, said well, hopefully, yes. So that's where this starts from.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: I see. The president also said this morning that funds for Iraq are running out. How pressing of a concern is that?
GONYEA: Well, he says that if he doesn't have a bill to sign by mid-May, then troop deployments can be affected and training and all those sorts of things. He painted a very dire picture. But again, Democrats say that he's looking for a worst-case scenario, that they have seen an independent study that says there is the funds to keep the troops going until they settle this thing. So that's where things stand right now.
COHEN: Don, quickly - looking ahead, is there any chance at all that there would not be a bill to fund the war in the end?
GONYEA: That seems very unlikely. The House and Senate will negotiate between their two bills. The president will not sign it. He'll veto it. And then, really, the process starts again, because the White House does seem to be correct when they say there aren't the votes to override a veto.
COHEN: NPR's White House correspondent, Don Gonyea. Thanks so much, Don.
GONYEA: A pleasure.