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Analysis: Veto Won't End Iraq Dispute
April 24, 2007

In the political test of wills over Iraq, congressional Democrats opposed to the war have public opinion on their side and President Bush has enough Republican votes to make his vetoes stick. Long term, that's not a winning formula for the White House.

"This war must end," Sen. Joseph Biden said Tuesday, one day after Democrats decided to send Bush legislation that funds the conflict but sets a one-year timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Conceding Bush's current strength among Republicans, the Delaware Democrat said he looked forward to the day when enough GOP senators could be persuaded to "stop backing the president and start backing the troops."

Over time, Democrats say they will challenge Bush and his GOP supporters relentlessly, and Republican strategists privately fear an increasing number of lawmakers will part company with the White House as the 2008 elections draw closer. But it is not clear that the day of a veto override on the war will arrive before Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009.

In the interim, a bruising veto fight plays out.

The timetable in the Democrats' bill is non-binding, making the legislation less than many anti-war Democrats want. But as Bush made clear in remarks on the White House lawn Tuesday, it is more than he will accept.

"Precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is not a plan to bring peace to the region or to make our people safer at home," he said. "Instead, it would embolden our enemies and confirm their belief that America is weak"

The bill's fate is not in doubt. Bush will veto it, Republicans will uphold the veto in the House next week if a vote is held, and Democrats will then draft another bill.

Democratic congressional officials, speaking privately, have said in recent days that party leaders are not looking for a protracted veto struggle on the current legislation. Instead, it's more likely Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will work with the White House and try to make their follow-up bill acceptable to the president.

In the end, the two sides may reach a political compromise of sorts, resulting in legislation that funds the war and includes political standards for the Iraqi government to meet on issues such as distribution of oil revenues.

That would allow Bush and his GOP allies in Congress to claim they were signaling the Iraqis there was a limit to the patience of the United States. At the same time, Democrats could say they had not simply written the president a blank check to prosecute a war that already has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,200 U.S. troops.

Despite earlier talk of a short-term bill providing funds for only a month or two, several officials say it's likely Congress will decide to give the Pentagon enough money to fight the war through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

The underlying calculation for Democrats is that as long as there is no interruption in funding for the troops, the veto fight won't deprive them of public support - and may even add to it.

"Troops in harm's way will always have the resources to do the mission their leaders ask of them," Reid promised in a speech on Monday.

Pelosi addressed the same subject at a news conference Tuesday. "The bill we intend to send to the president fully supports our troops and veterans. In fact, we give those troops and veterans more than the president asks for," she said.

While Democrats plan their next move, the commander in chief is embarked on a campaign to depict himself as the agent of change after four years of war.

"Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq. I listened," he said on Tuesday, delivering what has become almost a daily attack against Democrats determined to force a change in policy.

"Today, General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course. The American people did not vote for failure, and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership's bill would guarantee," the president said.

Bush and his critics disagree on whether the increase in troop strength he ordered last winter has begun yielding fruit. But there is little if any evidence that a troop increase was what the public had in mind in November when it turned congressional Republicans out of power and installed the Democrats in their place.

In an AP-Ipsos poll in early April, more than two months after he announced his policy, Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq drew the support of 33 percent of those surveyed. By contrast, 64 percent said they disapproved - 49 percent strongly so.

Nearly 60 percent said it had been a mistake to invade Iraq in 2003, and 52 percent said the war was a hopeless cause.

While Biden, Reid and others charge the president with being out of touch, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., cited the polls in comments to reporters as evidence that the Democrats are doing the public's bidding.

"We believe the American public, in every poll that we've seen over the last three or four weeks, is supportive of what we have suggested," he said. "Over 70 percent of the American public believes that what we've suggested makes sense."

EDITOR'S NOTE - David Espo is AP's chief congressional correspondent.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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