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Bush to Confer with Democrats on War Funding

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Congress really wants the testimony of a former Justice Department official. Monica Goodling may have information about the scandal over firing U.S. attorneys. She worked for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She was his liaison with the White House. When asked to tell Congress about it, Goodling invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Now lawmakers are working toward a deal that would grant her immunity and force her testimony.

INSKEEP: The Democrats who lead Congress initially passed on an invitation to meet President Bush at the White House. They invited him to come to the Capitol instead. But in the end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to meet the president on his turf today. They will talk about an emergency Iraq war spending bill that Mr. Bush has threatened to veto.

NPR's David Welna reports on a possible showdown for those who show up.

DAVID WELNA, Host:

For a man receiving the two most powerful Democrats in Washington today, President Bush does not sound like he'll be an ingratiating host. On Monday, Mr. Bush made clear he has no intention of dropping his demand that all troop pullout timelines be stripped from the war spending bill.

GEORGE W: I'm looking forward to the meetings. I hope the Democratic leadership will drop their unreasonable demands for a precipitous withdrawal.

WELNA: We should not, the president pointedly added, legislate defeat. Vice President Cheney knocked the rhetoric up a notch further Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," where he defended having denigrated top congressional Democrats.

DICK CHENEY: Well, I think it's important they know where we stand. And the fact of the matter is, I do believe that the positions that the Democratic leaders have taken to a large extent now are irresponsible.

WELNA: Congressional Democrats seem to relish this fight, confident public opinion's on their side. Firing back at the White House from the Senate floor yesterday was Rhode Island's freshman Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: The president and vice president are on the attack, on the political attack, not against the Iraqi leaders who are slow-walking us through this conflict in their country but against the American people who have rightly questioned their failing policy. The question is this: How much longer will this president refuse to listen?

HARRY REID: He's going to be sitting right next to me. Unless he plugs his ears, he's going to have to listen.

WELNA: That was Majority Leader Reid speaking to reporters yesterday. A day after having accused the president and vice president of, quote, "failing our troops and our country," Reid toned down his own rhetoric. He declined to speculate on what he'd do should the president indeed veto the war spending bill.

REID: My goal is to get a bill - the conference report to the president as soon as possible. I hope to be able to do that early next week. What happens after that, Senator Levin can offer his opinions and I appreciate that, but that's a new ballgame.

WELNA: The opinion Michigan Democrat Carl Levin offered Sunday on Fox News was this - that Democrats would eventually pass another spending bill that has no timelines for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

CARL LEVIN: Hey, if we don't have the votes to override it - and it appears that we don't, but we never know until that vote is taken - that we would then hopefully send them something strong in the area of benchmarks as the second best way of putting pressure on the president to put pressure on the Iraqis.

WELNA: Stripping all target dates for troop withdrawals from the spending bill might anger the war's strongest opponents, but it would please Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.

BEN NELSON: I did vote for the softer date, the aspirational date of the Senate version to get this moving along. And my hope would be that ultimately we don't have a date in it.

WELNA: Setting performance benchmarks for Iraqis, rather than timetables for U.S. troops, might also win support from Republicans, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remains non-committal.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I think we're going to have to probably get through the first phase first, and then we'll see what it's going to look like the second time around. I think everybody is anticipating that the bill will be vetoed in the first instance, and then we'll discuss other aspects of it.

WELNA: McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner will also attend today's White House meeting. No one expects a veto-sparing compromise to emerge from it.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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