- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

President Bush offered a slew of domestic policy initiatives traditionally pushed by Democrats last night, but the new majority party in Congress mostly had the Iraq war on its mind.

“The president took us into this war recklessly,” said Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, moments after Mr. Bush’s speech.

“He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs,” said Mr. Webb, a Vietnam War veteran tapped to deliver the party’s response to Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address. “We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed.”

The Democratic Party, he said, backs “not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos, but an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”

Walking into the massive House chamber last night, Mr. Bush met face to face with a Democratic majority from both chambers that is almost unanimously opposed to his policies for fighting the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush told Congress last night that “nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.”

In response, Republicans shot to their feet with applause. The vast majority of Democrats — including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — did not budge from their seats or applaud.

When Mr. Bush urged resolve to “turn events toward victory,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who was his party’s 2004 presidential nominee, at first did not applaud. He then rose and applauded briefly, then sat down while those around him continued applauding.

After the speech, Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, said Mr. Bush is ignoring public opinion on the war.

“The November elections showed just how fed up the American public is with the president’s failed Iraq policy,” she said. “But instead of putting forth a plan that would withdraw our troops, the president continues to argue for an increase in our military presence.”

“If the president won’t listen and change course in Iraq, then it is now up to the Congress to catch up with the will of the American public and bring our troops home safely,” she said.

The chamber Mr. Bush entered last night also filled with an increasing number from his own party who no longer back him on the war. They looked weary, and many applauded big lines with only the tips of their fingers.

House Republicans, who have for most of Mr. Bush’s tenure followed in lockstep behind him, noted this week that the war has been a “difficult fight” and set benchmarks to monitor the administration’s progress going forward.

“Our plan includes strategic benchmarks to hold the Bush administration and the Iraqi government accountable and require the administration to report to Congress every 30 days,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “These benchmarks will allow us to determine whether sufficient progress is being made in Iraq on stabilizing the Iraqi democracy and denying terrorists a safe haven and ensuring stability in the region.”

Just hours before Mr. Bush’s speech last night, Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, signed onto a bipartisan resolution rejecting Mr. Bush’s proposal to add 21,500 troops to the battlefield in Iraq. Republican Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, publicly offered that resolution Monday.

On domestic issues, Democrats indicated some openness toward working with Mr. Bush but remained highly skeptical that the “compassionate conservative” is serious about advancing some of their most cherished agenda items.

“Let me simply say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and health care for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans,” Mr. Webb said.

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