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Bush, Democrats Clash Over Iraq War, Prosecutor Firings


President Bush and Democrats in Congress appear headed for a showdown on two issues in the weeks ahead, funding for the Iraq war and last year's firing of eight U.S. attorneys. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

In the wake of their election success last year, Democrats are flexing their muscles in Congress. Both the House and Senate have approved spending bills for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that include demands for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq by next year.

President Bush says it is irresponsible for Democrats to set a date for withdrawal and he has vowed to veto any bill that includes a troop pullout deadline.

"Democratic leaders in Congress are more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq," he said.

Democrats insist they represent the will of the majority of the American people who favor setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"He should become in tune with the fact that he is President of the United States, not king of the United States," said Senate Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid says he now supports withdrawing U.S. troops by next April and would favor cutting off funding for the war if the president vetoes the congressional attempt to set a withdrawal deadline.

Democrats believe they won control of Congress last November largely because of unhappiness over the war in Iraq. They also point to recent public-opinion polls that indicate about 60 percent of the country favors a withdrawal from Iraq within a year.

Ruth Wooden is president of a group called Public Agenda, which describes itself as a non-partisan monitor of public opinion. She spoke about a recent survey on how Americans feel about the war in Iraq.

"Seventy percent of the respondents say they favor withdrawal within the next 12 months from Iraq, and that is despite a 60 percent number in our survey who do feel we have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people," she said.

Republicans reject what they see as congressional meddling by Democrats in the Iraq war effort. They maintain it is the president's constitutional responsibility to wage war as he sees fit.

Democrats counter that the Constitution gives Congress the responsibility for funding the war, and that lawmakers have the right to attach conditions to spending bills that directly fund the war effort.

Richard Wolffe is White House correspondent for Newsweek magazine and a recent guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.

"On the Democratic side, they think they have public opinion with them and they are testing the president and seeing whether or not he has real authority anymore in terms of what he would call political capital," he explained. "So it is a game of who blinks first."

President Bush says the attempt by Democrats to link funding for the war to a demand for eventual withdrawal from Iraq will have a negative impact on training U.S. troops and repairing damaged equipment.

Analysts say Democrats need to guard against being portrayed as taking action that will hurt or weaken U.S. troops in the field.

Susan Bennett is a veteran journalist and now deputy director for the Newseum in Washington. She also appeared on Issues in the News.

"A majority of Americans say that we should end the conflict in Iraq, but an equal number of them say we should continue to support our troops," she said. "So you have got the conflict, both in the American public and also in the Congress. The Democrats have to be so careful in that they have to do what they think the electorate wants them to do, and that is get the troops out of Iraq. But they cannot deny the funding for the troops that are there or the support."

Many experts contend that Democrats need to improve their image on foreign policy and defense issues if they are to win the presidency in 2008.

"The Democrats, I think, constantly have their eyes on the past in which their party has been taken to task, sometimes in a tremendously effective way, by Republicans who argue that the Democrats are just not strong on issues of national defense," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

In addition to Iraq, Democrats in Congress are also engaged in confrontation with the Bush administration over last year's firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The Justice Department says the eight federal prosecutors were replaced because of poor job performance. But Democrats believe the firings were political and have demanded testimony from White House aides, including the president's top political adviser Karl Rove.

Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News says the controversy over the prosecutors is in part a result of the Democrats retaking control of Congress in last year's midterm elections.

"This is what happens to a White House when it loses control of Congress," he noted. "The Democrats control Congress. The Democrats now have a subpoena power and an investigatory power that they did not have when the Republicans were running Congress."

Rutgers University professor Ross Baker predicts there will eventually be a political compromise over the issue between the president and Congress.

"Yes, this is a classic confrontation between the two branches of the federal government and it is really what the framers of the Constitution intended," he said. "It is a political dispute and political disputes get ironed out politically, not in the streets, not with the use of the military."

Several Democrats and even a few Republicans have called for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign for his handling of the prosecutor controversy. Gonzales will have a chance to defend himself later this month when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.