LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And the policymaking calculus in now changed in Washington, of course. The two top Democratic leaders closed out their first week in control of Congress by putting President Bush on notice about Iraq. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, wrote a letter to the president telling him it would be a serious mistake to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq, a preemptive strike in the days before Mr. Bush unveils his new war strategy. More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: Last month, Majority Leader Reid said he was willing to take a look at the option of a troop surge in Iraq. Yesterday, Reid said he did take a look, and he did not like what he saw.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): This surge is a bad idea. This surge is a bad idea. The president has said he was going to listen to his commanders. If he's listening to his commanders, he can't do this. I know he's shuffling some in and out, obviously, because they're not telling him what he wants to hear. But what he needs to hear is the present situation in Iraq is deteriorating before our eyes, and a surge will not help.

DAVID WELNA: Both General John Abizaid - who's being replaced as head of the U.S. Central Command - and top U.S. Iraq commander General George Casey - who's also being replaced - have publicly opposed a troop surge. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who strongly supports such a surge, yesterday said opponents were yielding to a bureaucratic mindset among military leaders.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I respectfully disagree with those whose concerns are there because I believe that a defeated army would be a very difficult challenge for us, far more than that - than one that is overstretched.

WELNA: McCain also demanded that Democrats who oppose a troop surge explain what the U.S. strategy should be if Iraq falls into chaos. Also yesterday, President Bush met at the White House with a group of Senators from both parties he hopes will support his new strategy. Illinois Democrat Barrack Obama said he and others expressed grave concerns to the president.

Senator BARRACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I personally indicated that an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake and that we need a political accommodation rather than a military approach to the sectarian violence there. Some shared my views, other just indicated wariness or concern.

WELNA: Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, who was also there, said afterwards that American's patience with vagueness is wearing thin.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): So I indicated to the president that my support for any surge in troops would be dependent on the specificity in which it is delivered.

WELNA: But at the American Enterprise Institute - a conservative think tank that's been pushing a troop surge - now independent Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman was chiding fellow lawmakers for not backing the president.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): This moment cries out for the kind of courageous leadership that does what can succeed and win in Iraq, not what will command the largest number of political supporters in Congress. The battlefield is in Baghdad and Anbar, not in Washington. And we need to support the president as he goes forward, hopefully, with exactly that kind of new initiative in Iraq.

WELNA: Can Congress stop a surge by cutting off funds for the war? Majority Leader Reid said yesterday that's not in the cards.

Sen. REID: Whatever the soldiers, sailor, Marines and airmen of this country need to protect them, they will get.

WELNA: And in the end, that may be the one message from Congress the president hears. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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