Petraeus Discusses Iraq Funds with Lawmakers

Army Gen. David Petraeus held closed briefings with lawmakers as the House prepared to vote on the House-Senate compromise version of the Iraq war supplemental funding bill. The Senate plans to vote Thursday. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Lawmakers are grappling with the war in Iraq today in a couple of different ways. The House is moving toward a vote this evening on an Iraq War spending bill that President Bush says he'll veto.

At the same time, lawmakers met privately with the top U.S. commander in Iraq. General David Petraeus went to Capitol Hill with an update on the so-called troop surge. His visit is also seen as part of a White House effort to eliminate the troop withdrawal timeline that's part of the spending bill, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: General Petraeus got a defiant reception from demonstrators outside the briefing room, where he met this afternoon with members of the House.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Group: Let's go home now. Let's go home now.

WELNA: Republican members far outnumbered Democrats among those attending. One was Connecticut's Chris Shays.

Representative CHRIS SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): I believe that we can't give up on Iraq.

WELNA: Illinois Republican Ray LaHood played it even safer.

Representative RAY LAHOOD (Republican, Illinois): I'm going to support the troops.

WELNA: North Carolina Republican Walter Jones went into the meeting with General Petraeus deeply skeptical of the war.

Representative WALTER JONES (Republican, North Carolina): I'm going to ask him, what is the definition of staying the course? We could be staying the course 15 years from now.

WELNA: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after the briefing, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not attend, that it was clear to everyone there that the only solution in Iraq is political, not military.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): I believe that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress and establish a timetable for the responsible deployment of American forces was also reinforced. General Petraeus specifically indicated that he is relating to the Iraqis that expectation of the American public.

WELNA: What Minority Leader John Boehner heard from Petraeus was testimony that the president's decision to send more troops to Iraq was a good one.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): Considering where we are, I think the general feels good about the progress, thus far, in the reinforcements that are there, in the performance of the Iraqi troops. But there's a lot more that needs to be done by the government.

WELNA: But other Republicans - even those who support the war - are weary of General Petraeus' plan to prevail with more troops. Here's Tennessee's Zach Wamp.

Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): We put a lot of confidence in him in this new approach. And I do think the American people are low on patience, but I think that the mission is very, very important. So this is a very tough time in the history of our country. And we got to find a way to ask the tough questions, get the correct answers, improve the way we're doing things there, but stay long enough to leave with our head up and not our head down.

WELNA: Wamp says he plans to vote against the Iraq War spending bill tonight. Its call for beginning troop redeployments no later than October 1st, he says, is out of line. The House is expected to pass that measure and the Senate is to take it up tomorrow. The number two Democrat there, Dick Durbin, urged colleagues today to support the spending bill.

Senator DICK BURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): This failed policy in Iraq may not change until this president has left the White House. But that doesn't mean that congressional action and congressional debate are any less important. If President Bush is not listening, then we trust that the Iraqis will listen. They should know that this Congress will continue to work to make one thing very clear: American troops are coming home.

WELNA: But there maybe many more legislative battles before them.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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