Bush Gets Earful on War from GOP House Members
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
President Bush is still battling Congress over funding for the Iraq war. Democrats want to include a funding bill that limits the president's options. At the same time, President Bush is coming under pressure from members of his own party. Earlier this week, 11 moderate Republicans met with the president to press their concerns that the war could not be sustained without public support.
NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is covering this story, joins us on the line.
Juan, good morning.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: And let's get some analysis here. How worried are Republicans?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think they're pretty worried. They're looking at the voters right now. And that's the way that the conversation went in the residence of the White House with the president on Tuesday. They're suggesting that what you have here is three to one right now Republican voters supporting the war. But among political independents, it's two to one who say that the war has been a mistake. And when you go to Democrats, it's four to one who are strongly in opposition to the war.
So most of the Republican members of the so-called Tuesday Group who met with the president are saying they're in swing districts. And, right now, those districts are at risk because people are so frustrated with the war, and it's driving down the president's approvals rating and putting the Republican Party at risk.
INSKEEP: How does the White House respond to that?
WILLIAMS: Well, the White House response and the president's response is of course first to give them the meeting. And it was very unusual, but you had not only the president in the meeting but Karl Rove, his political adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, Steve Hadley, the national security adviser.
And what they're saying is we are working right now to try to get something done, and we can't afford to have you defect in any way. They need a strong Republican Party in the Congress supporting the president so they can try to get something done right now, and counseling patience. No promises made, but an understanding that any kind of precipitous withdrawal, as the president was saying to the group, would lead to chaos like what happened after Americans left Vietnam.
INSKEEP: We should just underline this. You say three to one Republican voters support the war. That means Republican presidential candidates aren't in any danger for supporting the war, but it's these moderate lawmakers in specific districts that are going to have a problem.
WILLIAMS: That's right. And even some in the Senate. And I think that's another concern at the White House. That if you get defections now, starting in the House, that could encourage people in, you know, moderate states, you know, in the Senate also to leave.
But what you got right now are people like Mike Castle in Delaware, Ray LaHood, Illinois, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania, Jim Gerlach -these are people coming from moderate swing districts that have been in Republican hands, voted for President Bush. But now the concern from voters is piquing, and they wanted to deliver that message directly to the president.
INSKEEP: Another subject, Juan. Is this the time in an administration when a lot of appointees will be leaving the administration?
WILLIAMS: It is, typically. But what we're seeing now is kind of an accelerated timetable, Steve. You've got about 20 senior people taking leave right now. And what I'm talking about is people from the Pentagon, State, as well as the White House. And it suggests a little - it's a tad earlier than we've seen previously. And I think that's catching lots of eyes or raising - opening lots of eyes around the town. I think part of it is Vice President Cheney is not running, as we've been talking about, we've got an unpopular war, and the president has low standings. So people are thinking now is the time to get out and take advantage of job opportunities and the fact they still know some people inside the White House.
INSKEEP: And so, even though those somebody high profile like Alberto Gonzales are staying, other people are getting out?
WILLIAMS: They are. Well, right now, J.D. Crouch, who is the deputy national security adviser, is leaving. Then you have a trio of foreign policy specialists, people like Meghan O'Sullivan, who is the deputy at National Security Council in charge of Iraq.
WILLIAMS: Tom Graham, who is an expert in Russia, Victor Cha in Asia.
INSKEEP: Got to stop there. Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juan Williams giving us some analysis this morning. This is NPR News.
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