RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. The House of Representatives considers funding for the war in Iraq this week. And that means Democrats get a reminder of something they have not accomplished. For a year and a half now they've tried and failed to end the war. And in fact a chief backer of the war funding this week will be a powerful Democrat who promised to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Scott Shafer reports from member station KQED. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not "a chief backer of the war funding." Speaker Pelosi voted against the Iraq war spending bill.]
SCOTT SHAFER: In November of 2006, the day after Democrats won a majority in the House, Nancy Pelosi - then poised to become speaker - expressed hope that the war was about to wind down.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): We must not continue on this catastrophic path. And so hopefully we can work with the president for a new direction, one that solves the problem in Iraq.
SHAFER: But today, 18 months into her speakership, there are more U.S. troops in Iraq than the day Pelosi took the gavel. And the death toll has passed 4,000. Sitting in her office at the U.S. Capitol near a window that perfectly frames the Washington monument, the San Francisco Democrat expressed her frustration about the war.
Representative PELOSI: The president has a tin ear to the voice of the American people. They spoke. He didn't care. He has a blind eye to what's happening on the ground in Iraq. He's got his head in the sand.
SHAFER: How disappointed are you that you haven't been able to do more in terms of ending the war?
Representative PELOSI: Very disappointed. It's the main issue. Everything else is eclipsed by the war. All of our accomplishments are eclipsed by the war, because we didn't end the war. And the war has an impact on other issues.
SHAFER: The San Francisco district Pelosi represents is one of the most liberal in the nation. But as speaker, Pelosi's constituents are the other 235 Democrats in Congress, including the most conservative members, known as the Blue Dogs.
Antiwar activist Medea Benjamin says liberals feel betrayed after being encouraged by Pelosi's antiwar rhetoric before the 2006 election.
Ms. MEDEA BENJAMIN (Activist; Co-founder, Code Pink): And what we see now, it's been part of a political game. Talk a hard line, put the blame on Bush, but make sure the money keeps flowing, at least until the presidential election.
SHAFER: Benjamin thinks Pelosi has failed to pressure the conservative Blue Dog Democrats into supporting troop withdrawal deadlines - a charge that makes Pelosi bristle.
Representative PELOSI: We have a very progressive caucus. And when we come to voting for a definite timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, our Blue Dogs have been with us. They have not strayed from this.
SHAFER: Pelosi has a point. Last year, Congress did pass legislation bringing most of the troops home by the end of 2008. But President Bush vetoed it. He's threatening to veto the current war funding bill too, presuming the House goes along with the Senate's $165 billion version. It sets no deadlines for bringing home troops. But it includes more domestic spending than Republicans and Blue Dogs want. The speaker needs every Democratic vote, because she'll get little help from the Republicans.
Mr. RICH BOND (Republican National Committee): I think she maybe gets a D.
SHAFER: Former Republican National Committee chair Rich Bond gives Pelosi low marks, because he faults her for a troubled political partnership with the president.
Mr. BOND: Speaker Pelosi has no relationship with the president of the United States. It's toxic, and that really doesn't serve either side.
SHAFER: That toxicity between Pelosi and the minority party leave some Republicans calling her Czar Nancy. Still, she rejects the notion that she and Bush don't have a good working relationship.
Representative PELOSI: Oh, I think I have a very truthful and candid relationship with the president. He knows I have to do what I have to do, and I know he has to do what he had to do.
SHAFER: Congressional scholar Norman Orenstein of the nonpartisan American Enterprise Institute says it was time for Congress to push back against this White House. And he dismisses critics who say Pelosi should have done more to end the Iraq war.
Mr. NORMAN ORENSTEIN (American Enterprise Institute): There is no way a Congress is going to be able to stop an ongoing war where you have 100,000-plus Americans under fire in its tracks. That's just not a practical reality in the world.
SHAFER: Friends say the war grates on Pelosi. She's mostly frustrated that Democrats don't have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to apply more pressure on the administration. For that reason she's keenly focused on helping Democrats expand their majority in Congress and defeating John McCain in November.
In August she'll chair the Democrats' national convention in Denver, putting her skills at keeping the party united to the ultimate test.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer.
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