COMMENTS: Rose Garden Response

President George Bush came to the Rose Garden to blast Congressional Democrats for their insistence that he start preparing to pull troops out of Iraq. He called them "irresponsible." He asserted that they would abandon their pullout bill as soon as his veto was upheld and then agree to fund his policy without argument. His statements constituted the Story of the Day even though they received a mixed reception from the networks. CBS and NBC considered the President their lead. ABC did not even assign him a reporter, offering a soundbite of his reiterated veto threat only in passing.

CBS covered both sides of the political dispute. From the White House Bill Plante assessed the President's mood as "angry" as he "lashed out at Democrats." As for the Democrats' leadership, in-house historian Douglas Brinkley told Wyatt Andrews that they have nothing to lose by confronting the President. Brinkley characterized the Democrats' view thus: "Bush is not just a lame duck President but is irrelevant and wrong." Andrews suggested that the President is creating an artificial emergency, ignoring the Pentagon's ability to juggle its books. The true deadline for the extra spending vote may be mid-July not mid-April. "The reality is that neither side is backing down," noted NBC's David Gregory. "The war has come home and the fight in Washington now is about who should control it."

Providing analysis, NBC's Tim Russert (at the tail of the Gregory videostream) predicted that the President's head count of votes would be correct for now--enough Democrats would abandon their insistence on pulling troops out to join Republicans in a majority "but a significant bloc of Democrats will oppose the funding." Down the road, that split will become more dramatic, as the Senate schedules a vote to end war funding in the spring of 2008. Russert foresaw "enormous pressure" on Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd to pick sides.

In the meantime, the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are also at odds over regional diplomacy. Bush blasted Pelosi as "counterproductive" for including Damascus in her Middle East trip. CBS' Plante quoted the President as accusing the Speaker of allowing Syria's President Bashar al-Assad "into the mainstream of the international community" by meeting with him. NBC's Gregory observed that a Republican delegation had visited Damascus with no such criticism.


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