Democrats invited to talk with Bush

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Two weeks after congressional Democrats invited President Bush to negotiate over timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq, the president issued his own invitation yesterday "to meet with me at the White House."

But he made clear that he wouldn't compromise.

"At this meeting," Bush said in a speech at American Legion Post 177 in Northern Virginia, "the leaders in Congress can report progress on getting an emergency spending bill to my desk. We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal."

Democrats didn't ask the White House for an appointment.

"I prided myself on being a pretty good lawyer," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said half an hour after the president's speech. "I've settled lots and lots of cases. But you never settle a case going in saying, 'You can come and meet with me, but here's what the result's going to be before we meet.' That doesn't work."

As a result, the Iraq standoff between the Republican president and Democratic lawmakers continued for another day, with each side accusing the other of playing politics with money vital for the troops.

Last month, Democrats in the House and Senate narrowly passed emergency spending bills that set timelines for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, which they say would force the Iraqi government to take more steps to reduce violence and bridge sectarian divisions.

"The essence of what we're proposing is a refocus and a change of missions," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a leading architect of the Democratic legislative efforts to end the war.

The House and Senate plans set different dates and conditions for a withdrawal, but both require the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks demonstrating progress.

Both plans also would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Iraq to protect U.S. personnel, train Iraqi forces and conduct anti-terrorism operations.

Bush and his GOP allies in Congress have repeatedly said that such an approach would undermine U.S. efforts aimed at controlling violence in Iraq.

The president has threatened almost daily to veto any bills that, as he put it yesterday, "substitute the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders on the ground."

Bush wants Democrats to send him a bill without conditions.

Two weeks ago, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, sent Bush an invitation to "sit down and work together."

"You apparently intend to follow a political strategy that would needlessly delay funding for our troops," they wrote in a letter that accused the president of having failed to provide adequate funding the military and care for veterans.

The White House never responded, Reid's office said. "They never respond to our letters," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Yesterday, seconds after saying that he wanted to host lawmakers at the White House, the president called the Democratic leadership "irresponsible" and said it is "bent on using a bill that funds our troops to make a political statement."

He said later, "When it comes to funding our troops, we have no time to waste. It's time for them to get the job done."

Reid responded, "He should read our legislation. We're trying to be reasonable."

Noam N. Levey and James Gerstenzang write for the Los Angeles Times.

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