Support Declines for Bush on Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Two major factors may affect the direction of the war in Iraq. One is public opinion inside the United States, another is the political debate within Iraq. This morning, we're reporting on developments in both countries.
INSKEEP: The White House and its critics have spent all week trying to shape American opinion. President Bush lashed out at those who say he misled the country into war. Vice President Cheney said last night that he cannot stop critics from losing, quote, "their backbone."
MONTAGNE: Some critics are Republicans. This week, the Republican-led Senate demanded more signs of progress from the White House. They voted at a time of eroding support for the war and for the president.
INSKEEP: We got a sense of that when we called back voters we interviewed last year. David Whitcomb(ph) voted for President Bush in Pennsylvania in 2004, but is more unhappy with the president now.
Mr. DAVID WHITCOMB: I didn't agree with the decision to go into Iraq to start with. Recently, though, his response to Katrina and the Karl Rove scandal and now this information about the information that was presented before the war in Iraq began--it's been a sequence that's really lowered my opinion of him and his administration.
INSKEEP: David Whitcomb describing a sequence of events that's made him unhappy with the president. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
And Don, we just heard one man's opinion there. But does that reflect broader concerns among voters?
DON GONYEA reporting:
If we look at national polls, polls--the public as a whole, you can absolutely see a trend line and that trend being declining support for the president and the way he is handling the war in Iraq. And we're well past the 50 percent disapproval mark. In a recent Gallup Poll, 63 percent disapprove. Now that's a number that looks at the country as a whole.
It is also interesting, though, to just go to a state where the president has been traditionally very popular, the state of Tennessee, where there is a new poll out. Just quickly by way of background, in the 2004 election, President Bush easily carried Tennessee: 57 percent of the vote, he got; John Kerry got 43 percent. This past spring, the president's approval rating in Tennessee according to a poll done by Middle Tennessee State University was 55 percent. Today, the president's approval rating--the way they describe it is: Do you have a favorable opinion of President Bush's performance--down to 40 percent, a 15-point decline.
INSKEEP: So that's what's happening in Tennessee. Let's hear a voice from another state, a voter we met also in 2004. His name is Dan Rollback(ph). He's in the state of Wisconsin. He's a retiree in Milwaukee. He strongly supported both the war and President Bush, but now he wants a timetable to get out of Iraq.
Mr. DAN ROLLBACK: It's going to take a little while for that constitution to work, but I think honestly a time limit should be set in about two years. We've been there for some time. I mean, we can have advisers there now, but I think it's time that they should establish their own armies, their own intelligence. And now they've got their freedom and I think two years should be about the limit.
INSKEEP: So, Don Gonyea, Dan Rollback still wants to win. He still sounds like a Republican voter, but he's getting impatient here.
GONYEA: And it's interesting the things he mentions there about the timetable, the exact sort of debate that we are seeing this week in the United States Senate. There has been considerable pressure put on the president, if not to set a firm time line, that is something that he refuses to do, but that debate is happening. And it is something that Americans are increasingly talking about: How long is the US going to be in Iraq?
INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, I want to play two more pieces of tape from this week. The first is from President Bush defending his policy and also warning his critics not to send mixed signals.
(Soundbite from applause and cheers)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united and we will settle for nothing less than victory.
(Soundbite from applause and cheers)
INSKEEP: In that speech on Monday, the president spoke of irresponsible charges by Democrats about the way the war began. That led to a powerful response from a Republican senator now; a Republican, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who said each American has a right to question our policies and then went on to question them.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Trust and confidence in the United States has been seriously eroded. We are seen by many in the Middle East as an obstacle to peace, an aggressor, an occupier. Our policies are a source of significant friction, not only in the region but in the wider international community. Our purpose and our power are questioned.
INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, why is it harder now for the administration to silence its critics?
GONYEA: Again, I think it gets back to that question of public approval and how the public as a whole is viewing the president's handling of the war. It creates a situation where every single member of Congress has a decision to make. If you are a Democrat, the decision is: How much do I criticize this president? And they can take cues from what the public thinks about this war. Same goes with Republicans. Now we heard from Senator Hagel there. He is a senator who has often spoken up against the parties of--a Republican president--Hagel himself, a Republican, too. But Republicans are going into an election year in '06 and they are asking themselves: Is it good for me to stand with the president? And all of that makes it a much more complicated thing for the president when he does try to speak out against his critics the way he has been in the last week.
INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thanks for your insights.
GONYEA: It's always a pleasure.
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