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Flood Control & Iraq on the Minds of the GOP

CAMBRIDGE, Md. - When Capitol Briefing asked readers to offer up some suggestions for questions House Republicans should pose President Bush, everyone missed out on the most off-the-charts query the commander in chief would face.

No one, including yours truly, ever thought about flood control projects. The conclusion of the 48-hour House Republican retreat on the Eastern Shore featured a frank, hour-long question-and-answer session with Bush, whose popularity around the nation and in the GOP conference is near historic lows. While lawmakers said most of the questioning focused on Bush's proposed troop build up in Iraq, one Republican took the time to ask Bush about a flood control project he needs in his district.

However, the flood-control lawmaker is, for now at least, a mystery. Reps. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who were the designated briefers for the press corps after the closed-door portion of Bush's talk with Republicans, declined to identify just who it was who ignored the big questions of the day and instead focused on what many might consider a local pork project. So much for earmark reform.

As for the proposed questions to Bush, there were several and here are two of the best:

"If I was a relatively brave GOP representative and I was concerned about my seat in 2008 I'd be asking some polite variation of: 'what if you're wrong about the surge?' The problem they face is that Bush is a short-timer, a corporate exec about to bail out of a struggling company. He will be totally insulated from any decision-making beyond 2008."
-- Judge C. Crater

"What solutions do we propose for the leading issues of the day that will resonate with the growing ranks of non-partisan, moderate, centrist and independent voters?"
-- Paul Silver

That last question from Paul Silver is a particularly interesting one given Shailagh Murray's profile of the leading anti-war GOP critic in the Senate, Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), in which Hagel semi-jokingly -- or was he deadly serious -- talked about running as an independent with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-N.Y.) as his vice presidential nominee.

However, for now, Republicans are putting their best face forward about their unity heading into next week's debate about a Senate resolution that would be nonbinding but put all 100 Senators on the record regarding the troop surge. After that, the resolution would head to the House.

"We're going to do what's right and stand by the troops," Cantor, the chief deputy whip who helps enforce party unity, said of Bush's remarks.

About 15 members had the chance to ask Bush questions, which obviously went beyond flood control and turned mostly into what Cantor called a "frank" discussion about Iraq.

"The president acknowledged the skepticism and opened the floor," said Putnam, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 post in leadership.

Putnam added that the Republicans are all over the map on the latest Iraq proposal: "You got members saying is 20,000 (new troops) too many? You got members saying is 20,000 enough?"

Bush did not waver in his convictions that he's doing the right thing, according to Cantor and Putnam, but did come across in a more humble manner in terms of the unpopular position he's hoping they will endorse. And Republicans said they came away from the retreat, especially Bush's session, more unified for the pending fights over Iraq.

"It helps members prepare for what we are about to confront on the floor of the House of Representatives," Cantor said.

By Paul Kane  |  January 26, 2007; 5:04 PM ET
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