Even With the Democratic Party's Right Wing, Bush's Iraq Plans Don't Fly

In the minority, Rep. Christopher Shays is finding his voice is not always heard.
In the minority, Rep. Christopher Shays is finding his voice is not always heard. (By Fred Beckham -- Associated Press)
By Lois Romano
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Even as the capital buzzed with word of the tense meeting last week between President Bush and a group of House Republicans who worry that his handling of the war will damage the GOP's future, there was another White House meeting the same day that slipped by largely unnoticed.

Bush reached out to about 15 moderate and conservative Democrats seeking support for a war spending bill with few restrictions on the administration's Iraq strategy.

But the president made little progress at the May 8 meeting. The Democrats expressed concern to Bush about the course of the war and urged scaling back U.S. involvement. They found Bush cordial but not particularly receptive, said three members who were in the meeting.

"He believes what he's saying, and I respect him for that," said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.). "But I found it also scary. . . . He has tunnel vision."

One of the members pressed the president on how he defined "victory" in Iraq, and the president responded that winning would mean installing a permanent, stable democracy.

"We said that's not likely to happen for many years," said another member who asked for anonymity to try to preserve good relations with the White House.

"We overthrew Saddam," Ross said. "How many more goal posts?"

The meeting was one of a several that moderates have had with the president since the GOP lost control of Congress and the White House began looking for allies among the opposition. "I've been at the White House more in the past four months that I had been in the previous six years," Ross said.

"He is trying to develop a relationship with some of us who are on the moderate side of the Democratic caucus," said Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida. "I applaud that. . . . It will help break down the partisan wall that the White House and Tom DeLay created over the years."

Also included were Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Bud Cramer of Alabama, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Artur Davis of Alabama, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, Gene Green of Texas, Jane Harman of California, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Dennis Moore of Kansas.

The White House declined to comment on the meeting. Most of those invited were members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog caucus, but many of that group were also left out. Conspicuously absent were freshmen -- many of whom owe their seats to their tough criticism of Bush and the war.

Last week's meeting lasted an hour and was in the president's residence at the White House. The group covered a number of issues, but the discussion always returned to Iraq, the lawmakers said.

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