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Domestic Politics Behind Showdown Over Funding Iraq War, Analysts Say

President Bush and congressional Democrats are expected to make a fresh attempt at compromise over funding the war in Iraq following the president's veto of an emergency war-funding bill Tuesday. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more on the politics driving the Iraq debate from Washington.

The president vetoed the bill because Democrats had included in it a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure, and that would be irresponsible," said Mr. Bush.

Congressional Democrats said they were following through on promises made during last year's congressional election campaign to force Mr. Bush to change direction in Iraq.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California became Speaker of the House after Democrats retook control of Congress last November.

"The president wants a blank check," she said. "The Congress is not going to give it to him."

Democrats acknowledge they do not have enough support in Congress to override the president's veto, setting the stage for new negotiations aimed at a compromise spending bill to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that does not include a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

But political analysts say the Democrats had to take a stand against the president on Iraq because of passionate anti-war feelings among party activists.

New York Daily News Washington bureau chief Tom DeFrank is a frequent guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.

"It is the theory that we, the Democrats, were given power last November because the American people were sick and tired of the war, and we cannot look like, having been given a grant of power, that we are basically turning our backs on the people who told us, 'Do something about this war,'" he said.

Despite the strong anti-war feelings, Democrats remain divided about what should happen next in Iraq. Many veteran Democratic lawmakers recall past political campaigns when Republicans accused them of being weak on national security. They want to avoid being blamed for losing Iraq by forcing a pullout of U.S. troops that might lead to chaos.

Ross Baker teaches political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"On the one hand, they want to put pressure on the president," he noted. "On the other hand, I think they are concerned that the United States does not leave Iraq in undue haste, leaving, in a sense, the patient on the operating table still open and not sewn up."

Public opinion polls continue to show widespread opposition to the war in Iraq and a desire to pull out most U.S. troops by next year.

But Democratic political strategist Celinda Lake says even many of those who oppose the war are worried that withdrawing from Iraq too quickly will plunge the country into a widespread civil war.

People want to change the direction in Iraq, but it still has to be defined for them in terms of what that change would be. They want stability, which is a very strong word, and they want to start in a direction that is starting to get the troops out.

Republicans have been generally united behind the president in the funding battle. But experts say that could change in the months ahead if the military situation in Iraq does not improve.

Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Jim Warren, a guest on VOA's Issues in the News, says the fight over funding the Iraq war suggests the president and Congress will get little done in the remaining months of his presidency.

"We are in the tail end of the president's final term. I think war or no war, this will be a very difficult time for him to get much done," he said. "I mean, that is the history for lame-duck presidents. And now you even have a fair number of folks in his party who care less about getting legislation passed than figuring out a way that they can succeed him at the White House."

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found 30 percent of Republicans who plan to vote in next year's presidential primaries disapprove of the president's handling of Iraq, and that 41 percent want the next president to take a different approach on the war.