Veto Sustained, Bush Sits Down with Lawmakers

With his veto of the Iraq spending bill sustained, President Bush sat down with bipartisan leaders from Congress to discuss a version of the funding measure that would not force withdrawal of U.S. troops on a timetable.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the next phase began in the struggle for control of the U.S. mission in Iraq. And the House of Representatives failed to override President Bush's veto of a war-funding bill that would have mandated timetables for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Then President Bush sat down with congressional leaders from both parties - all claimed they want to compromise but none seemed to give any ground.

In a moment, we'll hear about the next steps Congress might take, and we'll talk with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe about a compromise that she is proposing.

First: The story from the White House. Here is our correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: President Bush vetoed the funding bill yesterday as soon as he returned to the White House from a visit to the military's central command headquarters. This morning he used the speech to the Associated General Contractors to talk about Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a frustrating war. Nobody likes a war.

GONYEA: But the president's language also signaled that he is far from ready to compromise with a Congress that wants to put real pressure on the Iraqi government to take over security on its own. Congress has wanted that pressure to take the form of a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals.

Today, the president said, such a move would make Iraq a humanitarian nightmare. And he said there'd be chaos across the Middle East and he spoke of what that would mean for al-Qaida.

Pres. BUSH: And there would be no benefit in allowing the same terrorist network that attacked America on 9/11 to gain a safe haven from which to attack us again. Even if you think it was mistake to go into Iraq, it would be a far greater mistake to pullout now.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: In a letter to the House of Representatives today, the president also argued that a congressional mandate regarding troop withdrawals is unconstitutional. His language on that point was less formal during a Q and A session with audience members.

Pres. BUSH: The question is who ought to make that decision, the Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear. I'm a commander guy -yes, sir.

GONYEA: This afternoon at the White House, the president hosted Democratic and Republican congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room. Mr. Bush said it's important that they work quickly.

Pres. BUSH: Yesterday was a day that highlighted differences. Today is a day where we can work together to find common ground. I will inform - and another speaker and the leader that - of our serious intent.

GONYEA: But despite that talk of common ground, the president revealed nothing about what he is willing to give, if anything, in order to get a bill he likes.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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