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Bush rallies GOP on Iraq plan
CAMBRIDGE, Md. — President Bush yesterday rallied House Republicans gathered for their annual retreat, saying the party can unite around his domestic agenda but acknowledging his ideas are overshadowed by fractured positions on the Iraq war.
Republican leaders said Mr. Bush explained the importance of success in Iraq without explicitly asking them to support his plan to send 21,500 more troops there.
“It did a lot of good to have the president here [and] have our members … be able to confront him if they had a question about the policy and to hear him and his conviction to continue to win and do all we can to succeed in Iraq,” said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the deputy Republican whip.
“The president said these are tough times, war is never easy,” Mr. Cantor said. “Unlike what the other side is going to present on the floor, we’re going to do what’s right. We’re going to stand by our troops.”
Democrats who control Congress are planning a vote next week on a nonbinding resolution opposing the president’s plan.
Mr. Bush’s public remarks on Iraq yesterday were largely repeated from his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but he stayed for a private session with the 160 members attending the retreat. Leaders later described the one-hour talk as a “frank,” “unabashed,” “good family discussion.”
Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida said Mr. Bush’s talk was filled with his trademark decisiveness: “He’s no triangulator.”
Mr. Bush took questions from more than a dozen members about domestic issues and his Iraq plan, which several Republican senators have openly criticized.
“He didn’t say, ‘Please support me.’ He said here’s what happens if this doesn’t work,’ ” Mr. Putnam said.
Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio on Thursday identified Iraq as “first and foremost” why Republicans lost their congressional majority in November’s midterm elections.
Mr. Bush told members he understands the war poses a political difficulty for them.
“That reminds people he really does get it,” Mr. Putnam said.
According to a source in the room during the private discussions, Rep. Mike Ferguson of New Jersey told Mr. Bush: “We want you to succeed in Iraq,” prompting members to applaud wildly.
During his public remarks, Mr. Bush said he thinks the war in Iraq is key to the war on terrorism.
“I fully understand there are differences of opinion, but one of the things I have discovered is in Washington, D.C., most people understand the consequences of failure,” Mr. Bush said. “The plan I outlined to the American people is one that I believe can succeed.”
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