Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent Congress’ spring recess at home in Nevada, touting Democrats’ troop-withdrawal timetable as the fix to President Bush’s Iraq war plan on local TV shows and press events.
Several states away in Ohio, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner met newspaper editorial boards and appeared on talk radio to push the president’s plan to veto a military spending bill that comes with a pullout date.
But neither Democrats nor Republicans appear to be making much headway in swaying a public as polarized on the issue as Congress. Throughout the country, public opinion about the veto standoff falls mostly along the party divide, with Democrats backing congressional leaders and Republicans lining up behind the president.
“It is strictly partisan as is everything else,” independent pollster John Zogby said.
For example, a recent Zogby International poll of New Hampshire Republicans showed that 40 percent trusted the president’s war plan, 8 percent trusted the Democrats and 47 percent trusted neither.
Similarly, a poll published March 31 by Newsweek showed that 64 percent of Republican voters oppose the one-year pullout timetable passed by the Senate, compared with 81 percent of Democratic voters who support it.
Mr. Reid’s message falls flat for many who fear that a veto standoff between the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress will delay the arrival of about $100 billion reaching the troops by April 15, when Pentagon officials say the war money starts running out.
“You are using [the troops] as a political football,” an audience member told Mr. Reid during a Thursday round-table discussion with veterans, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
Henderson, Nev., Police Chief Richard Perkins, a Democrat and former speaker of the Nevada Assembly, said residents are confused by the war debate.
“I don’t sense that folks are supporting the president, but they don’t embrace what the Congress is trying to do,” he said. “This showdown in Washington D.C. is causing them great anxiety.”
Mr. Boehner’s words likely also rang hollow with Ohio voters who disapprove of the president and his war effort at a somewhat higher rate than the rest of the country, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Polling Institute data.
Mr. Bush has vowed to veto the pullout timetable, which is attached to emergency funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also criticized Democratic leaders for taking a “spring break” without completing work on the bill — now two months since he requested the money.
The president rejects both a Senate-passed bill calling for most U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by March 31, 2008, and a House-passed bill that sets a September 2008 withdrawal deadline.
The final version agreed to by both chambers is not expected to reach Mr. Bush’s desk until late this month. If he vetoes it and Congress fails to override him, negotiations for troop funding will begin again.
The narrow margins the bills passed by, mostly along party lines, make it unlikely that Democrats in either chamber can muster the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto.
But with their base of voters unwavering, neither is Congress nor the White House as they proceed toward a stalemate that could keep war funds in check indefinitely.
“Up to this point, [Democrats] have shown no indication they’ll work with the president at all,” Mr. Boehner told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Call it gridlock if you want, but Congress is controlled by the Democrats and the White House is controlled by Republicans, and they have widely divergent views about what the priorities should be.”