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Clyburn: Positive Report by Petraeus Could Split House Democrats on War

By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, July 30, 2007 6:26 PM

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party's efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.

Clyburn, in an interview with the washingtonpost.com video program PostTalk, said Democrats might be wise to wait for the Petraeus report, scheduled to be delivered in September, before charting next steps in their year-long struggle with President Bush over the direction of U.S. strategy.

Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said. "We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the report."

Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."

Clyburn's comments came as House and Senate Democrats try to figure out their next steps in the legislative battle. Clyburn said he could foresee a circumstance in which House Democrats approve a measure without a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces, which has been the consistent goal of the party throughout the months-long debate. But he said he could just as easily see Democrats continue to include a timetable.

Clyburn also address the reasons behind declining approval ratings for Congress, which spiked earlier in the year when Democrats took over the House and Senate. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed just 37 percent approving of the performance of Congress.

"Remember right after the election it went very high on approval,?" he said. "Then all of a sudden people saw that we were not yielding the kind of result that they wanted to yield."

He said most Americans still do not know some of the domestic legislation that has been approved. Fewer understand that, despite Democratic majorities in both houses, that it takes 60 votes to pass anything legislation in the Senate.

Clyburn noted that while overall approval ratings of Congress are low, people still rate Democrats higher than Republicans. "People feel good about the Democratic Party, they just don't feel real good about the Congress itself."

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