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President Faces Congress Skeptical on Iraq


Hours before delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush faces continuing criticism from lawmakers on his strategy for Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where comments by Democrats and Republicans set the stage for events later in the day.

The president confronts low public approval ratings, resistance from key members of his own party on Iraq, and a resurgent Democratic majority riding a wave of momentum after initial legislative successes.

In the House and Senate, many are skeptical that his 21,500 troop surge for Iraq can be effective against sectarian warfare and terrorist attacks, although Republican leaders try to maintain the appearance of a solid front of support.

House Minority Leader John Boehner spoke in a news conference:

"The president's plan is going to succeed in bringing a safer and more secure Iraq, and frankly a safer and more secure United States," he said.

With Iraq-related resolutions and other measures on track for consideration by the House and Senate, the president is expected to strongly defend his troop surge for Iraq.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reiterates the Democrat's position:

"Clearly, there is a consensus in the country, we believe there is a consensus in the Iraqi government, and we believe there is a consensus in the Congress, that the proposal the president has made, to escalate the troop presence, which has been tried on a number of occasions and has not worked, will not work now," he said.

Hoyer says two proposed bipartisan resolutions on Iraq in the Senate have the same thrust, disapproval of the troop surge and emphasis on Iraqi government commitments.

Domestically, both parties are waiting to see what the president has to offer on domestic issues such as energy, health care and education.

The president will renew a call for U.S. energy security and independence from imported oil, urging Americans to reduce gasoline consumption by 2017.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel says Democrats will be open to the president's proposals, but questions his commitment:

"[In] every [State of the Union] speech, he has talked about energy security and his goal for energy security, and yet under his presidency, our dependence on foreign oil as a key part of our energy policy has grown, and we are no closer towards achieving the set goal," he said.

Republicans maintain that energy legislation pushed through Congress last year took steps toward energy independence.

Lawmakers are also bracing for what could be a tough fight a bit later this year when the president sends his 2008 budget to Congress.

Majority Leader Hoyer cautions that, in his words "a take it or leave it" approach, or one that does not take into account the true costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will not be received well by the Democratic majority.

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