SCOTT SIMON, host:
For years, centrist Republicans have taken what seems to be the backseat in dealing with the Bush White House. Now, they may be reaching for the wheel. A small but potentially pivotal group of Republican legislators went to the White House this week to warn the president that they're running out of patience with the course of the war in Iraq.
NPR's White House correspondent David Greene joins us.
Thanks for being with us, David.
DAVID GREENE: No problem, Scott.
SIMON: And who are the Republicans who met with the president?
GREENE: It was 11 members. I'd describe them, maybe, as moderate to conservative - most from the Midwest and Northeast - really old-style main street Republicans: Jo Ann Emerson from Southern Missouri, Ray LaHood from Central Western Illinois, many of them not likely to seek attention that often. They're not in leadership. I'd say not - not on the fringe, either. And most haven't cast any votes against anything having to do with the Iraq war, including this week, on the latest effort to limit the war with a short-term stopgap funding. So they are people who have felt the worry about the war in their districts and tried to walk a fine line.
SIMON: Was there a message for the president that they imparted that we can tell - close session after all?
GREENE: Really, a deep concern and saying to the president they need to see some improvement and need to see it fast, perhaps as early as September, when there's going to be an important report from David Petraeus, the commanding general in the ground, about the way is going.
SIMON: There was a time when Republicans working with Democrats on something this significant. And for that matter, meeting with the president to express disagreement just was not brooked(ph) in many councils. Would that be the case?
GREENE: It's very true, and this was a big change. And asking for the meeting was one thing. I mean, coming to the White House and being really blunt and honest with the president was another. It sounds like the meeting was supposed to be private - nothing was said about it until more then 24 hours after it happened. And that says something about the members. This was an effort to really send the message to the president but not get behind a microphone. And after a few of the members made public the meeting, you had this reaction from the White House.
There have been some reports from Capitol Hill that a lobbyist for the White House, Dan Meyer, and also the political strategist, Karl Rove, called one or two members of the group to really express frustration with them going public. And that might be the most remarkable element of this whole - that some of these members decided after the meeting not to keep it private and to go out and say what happened.
SIMON: They are up for reelection. Every member of the House is, of course.
GREENE: Absolutely. And they are in real dilemma because they need support of the GOP base back in their districts, but they're clearly also worried that that's not going to be enough and they need some maneuvering room on the war. And this is what we heard from Republicans in 2006, Scott.
They needed something to take home to their voters, something to convince voters that the president knew about problems that were there. And this is why so many Republicans were really angry that the president waited so long to fire Donald Rumsfeld.
SIMON: President Bush is, of course, cannot run for reelection. Is this contest, in a sense, a blip on the radar or does it extend to other issues that you can foresee?
GREENE: It's already been extending I think you could say. I mean, if you look at issues like federal spending and immigration, there have been some Republicans breaking ranks with the White House. But, you know, this is a clear sign of how these moderates can have some impact in the House, especially Republicans don't want to lose any votes to the Democratic side. And it might not be a coincidence that after this meeting, the president came out and spoke at the Pentagon and started talking about maybe some flexibility in this Iraq funding issue that is consuming Congress right now.
SIMON: NPR's David Greene at the White House. Thank you.
GREENE: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.