Obama Tries to Quell Iraq Criticism
By Anne E. Kornblut and Paul Kane
President Obama has invited members of Congress to the White House for a meeting later this afternoon to discuss his plans for drawing down troops in Iraq -- a plan that has already drawn stiff criticism from his Democratic allies.
After Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that the level of troops -- 50,000 -- who would remain in Iraq is too high, other senior Democrats voiced similar concerns on Thursday. Among Democratic leaders, only Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois is defending the new Obama plan, which will take three months longer than he promised and still leave a significant force structure on the ground.
"I'm happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said.
"It has to be done responsibly, we all agree, but 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
"I do think we have to look carefully at the numbers that are there and do it as quickly as we can," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) issued a statement saying he was "concerned" about the level of troops that would remain in Iraq.
The members are expected at the White House around 5:30 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama is comfortable with his plan, which he will formally announce in a trip to Camp LeJeune, N.C., on Friday, delivering a speech shortly before noon. "The president will lay out exactly what that plan is. And I think tomorrow you'll see a president and the national security leadership comfortable with the recommendations that have been made and accepted by the commander in chief," Gibbs said.
Durbin defended the plan, saying that it is not easy to to meet Obama's campaign promise of a near complete withdrawal in such a quick timeline without posing a risk to the soldiers that are left behind to help with embassy security and further training of Iraqi security forces. "I think what the administration is trying to do is strike that balance," Durbin said.
While Durbin is generally the most antiwar member of leadership, he also is Obama's closest ally on Capitol Hill.
Posted at 3:57 PM ET on Feb 26, 2009
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