Members Roll Eyes, Clench Teeth on War

Posted October 7, 2009 at 6:47pm

A day after a well-hyped White House meeting on Afghanistan war policy, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Wednesday were anxiously trying to interpret everything from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rolling her eyes at a comment by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to how GOP leaders positioned themselves in the session with President Barack Obama.

Pelosi appeared exasperated outside the White House when Reid told reporters, “The one thing that I think was interesting is that everyone — Democrats and Republicans — said, ‘Whatever decision you make, we’ll support it,’ basically.—

Pelosi took a demonstrably different take on the meeting between Obama and about 30 Congressional leaders. “Whether we agreed with it or voted for it remains to be seen, when we see what the president put forth,— she said.

Spokesmen for Reid and Pelosi declined to comment on Pelosi’s gesture, although a Reid aide sought to clarify the Majority Leader’s remarks, saying they were aimed at Republicans more than Democrats.

“I think what he was trying to get at was that Republicans during the Bush administration were always saying, ‘We need to support the commander in chief,’— the aide said. “This was Sen. Reid saying, ‘OK, now the same has to apply to President Obama.’—

But members of both parties bristled at that argument.

“I don’t know what meeting Harry Reid was in,— Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) said Wednesday, adding that he and other Senate Republicans did not make any blanket statements of support. McCain said he and other Republicans would not back “half measures— or other proposals that are not based on the upcoming strategy request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. “I don’t know where Sen. Reid got that impression,— McCain said.

One liberal House Democrat also took offense at the suggestion that lawmakers would sign off on whatever Obama decided to do.

“Excuse me, Senators were elected separately. House Members were elected separately. They were not elected to be rubber stamps,— the lawmaker said. “I’m surprised that a Senate leader … would make a statement like that.—

The House Democrat questioned how Reid could say Congress will support Obama’s decision when nobody even knows whether he plans to send as many as 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan, the request reportedly being sought by military leaders in the field.

“I don’t know Harry Reid. I’m told he’s very sagacious politically, but this comment makes me begin to wonder a little,— the lawmaker added. “I’m not surprised that Nancy flinched.—

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) tried to clarify that Reid meant all parties would support Obama in coming up with a well-developed strategy.

“I think Harry was capturing a mood which was very polite, very supportive of the president going through the process of making the decision— about how to proceed in Afghanistan, Berman said. “It shouldn’t be interpreted that everyone will automatically support that very well-informed, thoughtful decision that he makes.—

Republicans and Democrats alike declined to publicly discuss Reid and Pelosi’s relationship. Privately, however, aides on both sides of the aisle agreed that the two leaders have taken different, and often conflicting, approaches to the war debate.

“The divide between Reid and Pelosi is omnipresent,— a Senate GOP aide said. “Their legislative strategies are polar opposites, their messaging is completely out of synch and, as a result, their Members have no cohesion between chambers.—

Regardless of whether Pelosi’s expression was meant as a rebuke of Reid, Republicans said Democratic divisions over the war are clear and have become more pronounced since McChrystal’s report on the need for a new war strategy was leaked last month.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the left of the Democratic Party is opposed to what they’ve heard about the outlines of the report,— McCain said.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) agreed, noting that Democrats were not united during the meeting at the White House while Republicans were unified in pushing for an increase in troop levels as soon as possible.

“There are a lot of different views within the Democratic Party … there are obviously people on the left who don’t want the president to follow the general’s recommendations,— while others are ready to back McChrystal, Kyl said.

But the Democratic leaders weren’t the only targets of criticism following the White House meeting.

One lawmaker said House Republican leaders were “total wimps— for telling Obama that they would support his Afghanistan strategy no matter what.

This lawmaker, who requested anonymity, called out House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Armed Services ranking member Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) for not hammering home that their support hinged on Obama approving the troop requests sought by McChrystal.

“What really blew me away was that what I heard Boehner, Cantor and McKeon all say is, ‘Mr. President, we will support you.’ What I didn’t hear was, ‘We will support you if you go with McChrystal’s plan,’— the lawmaker said.

Even though GOP leaders came out of the meeting saying in front of cameras that they would only support the president if he gave McChrystal the troops that he requested, “That’s not what they said in the meeting,— the lawmaker said. Boehner and Cantor were “very, very deferential to the president.—

McKeon said he didn’t think Republican leaders left Obama with the impression that they would support whatever decision that he makes.

“I didn’t get the feeling that anybody was saying, ‘We’re with you no matter what you do,’— the California Republican said. “I hope not because I think I would have a hard time supporting a half-hearted plan.—