Convincing the Hill on Bush's Iraq Plan
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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.
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And from Washington D.C., I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, al-Qaida and its hide-out in Pakistan.
BURBANK: But first, today the Bush administration took its plan for Iraq to the Senate. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Unlike the unfriendly reception Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received yesterday at the Foreign Relations Committee from Democrats and Republicans alike, Gates actually heard some words of encouragement. This was Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I commend the president for recognizing the mistakes of the past and for outlining new steps on the military, economic and political fronts. I believe that together these moves will give the Iraqis and America the best chance of success.
BURBANK: Joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Brian Naylor. He's been watching the hearing. Brian, yesterday Secretary Rice got a pretty rough reception from the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. How did that compare to the reception that Secretary Gates got today?
BRIAN NAYLOR: Well, you're right, Luke. Yesterday, senators were talking about the Bush plan as being the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, in the words of Senator Chuck Hagel. And he's a Republican.
Today, there was more along the nature of polite skepticism. Senators wanted to know whether - how we're going to know, first of all, whether this plan is working. And Secretary Gates tried to assure them that we should know within a matter of months and that it wasn't an open-ended commitment.
The only really pointed questions came from Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts, who is sponsoring a plan that would call for a cut-off of funding for this troop surge. Here's what the senator asked.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Why not come back to the Congress? Why not come back and permit us to have a vote on this surge? Let the American people speak through their elected representatives to find out whether the American people would be - kind of took the president now two months to make this judgment. Let us have 10 days to try and make a judgment and a decision whether the American people are behind this.
BURBANK: I guess it pays to be the new guy on the Hill, because Secretary Gates seems to be getting it a little more gently from these guys, and also there were fewer senators who plan to run for president, I guess. So maybe that's why the rhetoric was toned down a little bit.
NAYLOR: All of that. It was only a few weeks ago, it seems, that Secretary Gates was before the same committee in his confirmation hearings. And so I think there is still a bit of a honeymoon going on. And also, yes, yesterday there were probably a half a dozen or so senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who had expressed varying degrees of interest in running for president. So there was a lot less of the charge to partisan nature today that existed yesterday.
BURBANK: So you've got most of the Democrats lined up against this idea. You've got a number of Republicans that are going to go along with it but they're not exactly trying to take any photos with the president at this moment. Where does the Senate go from here in terms of Iraq?
NAYLOR: I think next week we're going to see a resolution come to the Senate floor, basically a show of confidence or no confidence in this proposal. And I think that Democrats are going to show for the first time their new majority to force Republicans to go on the record as to whether or not they support this effort in Iraq. And that's going to have a big impact on the elections coming up in 2008.
BURBANK: NPR's Brian Naylor joining us from Capitol Hill. Thanks, Brian.
NAYLOR: You're welcome, Luke. Thanks.
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