- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Democratic leaders last night accepted President Bush’s offer to discuss the war-funding standoff, capitulating to the White House request after a day of alternately snubbing the invite and proposing meetings on their own turf.

“We will be at the White House on Wednesday to talk with the president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a joint statement released last night.

“We will listen to his position, but in return we will insist that he listen to concerns of the American people that his policies in Iraq have failed and we need to change course,” they said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Reid balked when the White House announced that the Nevada Democrat had agreed to attend the meeting and discuss the $100 billion war-funding bill that Mr. Bush has vowed to veto.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley had said the Nevada Democrat would rebuff offers to talk until he gets “a signal from the White House that they are prepared to drop their demand that this meeting is a listening session only and this meeting will not include negotiations.”

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, also began the day declining Mr. Bush’s invitation — reiterating the stance the leaders took Tuesday after the White House characterized Congress’ role in the meeting as listeners not negotiators.

There was no indication from the White House last night that the president had altered the terms of his invitation.

The White House had said it was “perplexed” by the dispute over the regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting with congressional leaders, which it said would focus on the war-funding bills with veto-provoking timetables to pull out troops from Iraq.

“Our legislative affairs staff was explicit when extending the invitations,” White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino told The Washington Times. “The meeting on Wednesday is a meeting to discuss the supplemental.”

Yesterday’s confusion highlights the difficulty for both the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress to determine how to resolve their fight over $100 billion in emergency war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The standoff over the Congress’ inclusion of U.S. troop withdrawal deadlines in Iraq threatens to stall war funds even as Pentagon officials say money starts to run out Sunday. Mr. Bush says it undermines the war effort, but Democrats say troops need to be removed from Iraq’s “civil war.”

The meeting skirmish came a day after Mr. Bush said Democrats were playing politics with the measure and that he was calling congressional leaders to the White House. Mrs. Perino later said it would not be a negotiation.

Mr. Bush and Republican leaders have been critical of Mrs. Pelosi’s decision to leave for spring break and a trip to Syria without appointing members to a conference committee. The House bill sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline and the Senate bill called for most troops to leave Iraq by March 31. The differences must be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, which has not met.

Later yesterday, Mr. Reid sent the president a letter inviting him to negotiate war funding tomorrow at the Capitol.

“If the president is serious and not as isolated as people think he is, maybe he will take us up on it,” Mr. Reid told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference. “I think there is a lot to talk about.”

He said Mr. Bush was as isolated as President Nixon “hunkered down in the White House” during Watergate.

Mrs. Perino, when asked whether Mr. Bush would go to the Friday meeting at the Capitol, said the president stood by his invitation to a White House meeting. She said the president’s resolve to veto a pullout timetable and the lack of support in Congress to overturn the veto left Democrats only one option: to fund the troops.

“So given that the Democrats have said that they do want to fund the troops — that they’re not going to cut funds for the troops — at some point the Democrats are going to have to come together and figure out a way to get the president a clean bill that he can sign,” Mrs. Perino said, adding that members of Congress always “have the ear of the president” at a White House meeting and can bring up any important issue.

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