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GOP Avoids Comment on Obama War Strategy

House Republican leaders have urged their Members to lay low in the debate about President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy in an effort to keep their message focused on jobs while Democrats fight each other over the war. Several Republican aides said limiting Republican comments on the war has allowed GOPers to make headway talking about “kitchen table” issues such as jobs, the economy and climate change.

“There is a deep divide in the Democrat Caucus on the war in Afghanistan, which has alienated many of the voters who elected the president and now find themselves at odds with his position,” one GOP aide said. “As the divide amongst Democrats over the importance of defeating terrorists in Afghanistan continues to widen, there is no need for Republicans, whose position is well-known, to get in the middle of their internal fistfight.”

Prior to Obama’s prime-time address last week, Republican leaders advised their Members to wait and see what the details of the strategy were before passing judgment.

After the speech, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) advised Members during a closed-door meeting of the Republican Conference to “keep their powder dry” before endorsing the plan until administration officials had testified before Congress.

But even though several officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testified last week, Boehner still said he was unsure and indicated he would wait to hear Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s testimony Tuesday before deciding whether to support Obama’s proposal.

Republican aides concede on background that most GOP lawmakers will ultimately support the president’s plan — despite concerns about the inclusion of a timeline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan— and that leaders would rather focus on areas where they disagree with Democratic policies.

Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) contended that Republicans continue to focus on jobs not because they agree with Obama’s Afghan policy, but because the economy remains the No. 1 issue with their constituents.

“The frustration is we don’t hear [the economic issues] out of the majority here, and back home it’s what we hear, we feel, we see,” McCarthy said. “And so it’s more of a direct reflection of what our agenda is and what we want to be working on and what I think the nation has the greatest desire for us to work on.”

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who came out early in support of the president’s decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, said the GOP focus on jobs wasn’t necessarily a “play call” by leadership but was more of a “natural” development of the debate.

“The ultimate, the higher plane of conversation is about jobs — it’s not a cavernous difference between how the administration looks at the world and how House Republicans are looking at the world, but there is just a very stark contrast,” Roskam said.

Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, argued that Members have yet to focus on Afghanistan because it has not been a priority for the administration or Congress until recently.

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