Key Bush administration officials have briefed members of Congress on the situation in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as Democrats and Republicans traded words over a debate on Iraq that Republicans hope will help change the American public's view of the military situation and their assessment of President Bush.

On a day when President Bush's surprise visit to Iraq filled the headlines, Rice and Rumsfeld held closed-door briefings for members of Congress designed to underscore the optimism they would like to convey about Iraq.

Emerging from a meeting with members of the House of Representatives, Secretary Rumsfeld said Mr. Bush's visit to Iraq enabled the president to assess the new prime minister and his cabinet, and demonstrate U.S. resolve in supporting his new government.

"It is important that this government be supported," said Donald Rumsfeld. "The president wanted them to know we wanted to be supportive of them, and that we wish them well."

Secretary Rumsfeld said the subject of any timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops was not discussed in meetings with lawmakers, saying only that as Iraqi forces improve and strengthen the U.S. will turn over more responsibility to them.

He was joined at a news conference by General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had this response when asked about progress in turning over security responsibility to Iraqis.

"I think we have been fairly consistent in that of the 18 provinces in Iraq, there are four that have been problematic," said General Pace. "That is still true. I think Prime Minister [ Nouri] al-Maliki has it exactly right in his focus on creating a safe and secure Baghdad, his forces supported by coalition forces will get about that business immediately. And I think it will see us continue to provide, from a coalition [standpoint] support to his army and his police to establish the kind of security they need to have throughout the country."

After a meeting earlier with members of the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State Rice referred to a video teleconference she and other officials held with members of the Iraqi government.

"We discussed how the U.S. government can support this new Iraqi government, the first permanent government for Iraq," said Condoleezza Rice. "It has plans, we have been listening to those plans and we are prepared to support them."

Republican lawmakers came out of Tuesday's meetings expressing support for the job the U.S. military is doing in Iraq.

Senator John Warner:

"The president just concluded what we all believe is a very important trip to Iraq to thank the troops for their brilliant mission in eliminating [the al-Qaida leader in Iraq Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi," said Senator Warner.

However, Democrats such as Senator Joseph Biden had a different assessment.

"The administration thus far has not had a strategy for victory, they have had a strategy how to avoid outright defeat," said Joseph Biden.

The debate on Iraq is scheduled to take place Thursday in the House of Representatives. A resolution drafted by the House Republican leadership, states that setting any arbitrary date for withdrawing U.S. troops would harm U.S. security interests, and says the U.S. will prevail in the global war on terrorism.

Congressman Ike Skelton, top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was distressed by the resolution and urged Republicans to hold what he calls a focused and dedicated debate on U.S. policy and the future of American commitment in Iraq.