DON GONYEA: This is Don Gonyea at the White House, where Press Secretary Tony Snow found himself dealing with question after question about internal administration debate about U.S. troop levels in Iraq. As for Senator Warner's White House visit and subsequent statement that the president needs to formally address the American people about where things stand on Iraq, Snow would say little.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): We're not planning an address at this juncture, but I'm not going to rule one out for heaven's sake.
GONYEA: Snow also tried to downplay a front-page story in today's New York Times. That piece cites anonymous sources, as saying there is now very active discussion within the White House about announcing some kind of limited troop withdrawal as a way to buy political time. Snow described the piece as being ahead of the facts. So outwardly, the White House is dismissive of any notion that politics are playing a role in its discussions and debate over Iraq. But pressure continues to build as key Republican senators are increasingly critical of not just the president's past handling of the war, but of the strategy right now as well.
When prominent Republican, such as long-time administration allies Richard Lugar and Pete Domenici become vocal critics, it does create serious political problems for the president. That makes for a difficult questioning for Tony Snow. In this exchange today, he downplayed differences with Republicans, insisting they are not bailing out on the White House.
Mr. SNOW: I'm not done. I'm just - I'm not sure that's an accurate rendition of what they're saying. Again, if you take a look at the comments, there is anxiety about the political atmosphere, which has been reflected in your questioning. But on the other hand, there is also recognition that you got to succeed in Iraq.
GONYEA: And that, says Snow, differentiates senators Lugar and other Republicans from the calls by Democratic leaders for a withdrawal timetable. President Bush did not weigh in on this topic today, but Snow called attention to the president's speech on the Fourth of July last week when Mr. Bush said, quote, "we all long for the day when there are far fewer American servicemen and women in Iraq."
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Yet, withdrawing out troops prematurely based on politics, not on the advice and recommendation of our military commanders, would not be in our national interest.
GONYEA: Still, the president has not made comments on Iraq since that day last week. And tomorrow he travels to Cleveland. He has three events planned there -one on healthcare, one on energy policy, and the other, a speech calling for fiscal responsibility in Washington. But despite that focus on domestic issues, it still seems quite likely that the congressional agenda and not the president's schedule will indeed make Iraq the topic of the day, whether the White House likes it or not.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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