Secretary of Defense Robert Gates faced sharp
questioning from both Democratic and Republican
members of the House Armed Services Committee
hearing about Iraq on Capitol Hill in Washington,
D.C., Jan. 11, 2007.
Defense Dept. photo by
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
In the official Democratic response, Senator Richard Durbin said the president is ignoring the advice of his military commanders, and the will of Americans.
"Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election," he said. "Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."
He and many other Democrats have been advocating a gradual withdrawal of the 130,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, to begin within the next four to six months.
President Bush's plan would have U.S. soldiers helping working alongside their Iraqi counterparts in securing areas of Baghdad and violence-torn al-Anbar province.
The president also underscored the importance of Iraqi government steps toward political reconciliation, something emphasized in the Democratic response.
Senator Durbin said, "Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that every time they call 911 [make an emergency call for assistance], we are not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers."
House Republicans said the president's speech presented another opportunity to end violence in Iraq, with Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam criticizing Democrats for writing off the plan before its details were known.
Senator John McCain, who has favored new troop commitments, said the president outlined a specific strategy that has potential for success.
Republican John Warner, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee until the Democrats gained a Senate majority in the November elections, says the president's plan lays the groundwork for important decisions
President Bush faced some surprises before his speech, when two key Senate Republicans, Norm Coleman and Sam Brownback, who is currently in Iraq, came out in opposition to a military surge.
Majority Democrats are walking a fine line between wanting to adhere to pledges to American voters to force a change in direction on Iraq and avoiding steps that could hurt U.S. soldiers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders oppose any funding cutoff, but will use hearings to examine every aspect of the Bush administration's Iraq policies, and future spending requests.
Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern is among those vowing to use the power of the purse to help bring U.S. troops home.
"This is George Bush's war, and he should end it on his watch," he said. "And if he is not going to listen to his own generals, the [advice of] Iraq Study Group, or the American people, then Congress must confront him and begin to deny him the means, the ability to carry out the next disastrous step of his policy."
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy has introduced legislation to require congressional approval before additional money is spent for, or troops sent, to Iraq, with a similar measure expected in the House.
Democrats are also preparing symbolic challenges. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says this will involve Democrat-sponsored non-binding resolutions to force lawmakers to go on the record for or against the troop surge.