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GOP aide: Bush plans 'campaign-style' drive for support on Iraq

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush said he will seek supplemental funding from Congress for the rebuilding of Iraq.
President Bush said he will seek supplemental funding from Congress for the rebuilding of Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush told Republican congressional leaders Wednesday he will mount a "very aggressive" campaign to explain to the American people the U.S. mission in post-Saddam Iraq, a senior GOP leadership aide said.

The aide told CNN that Bush -- just back this week from a monthlong vacation at his Texas ranch -- was passionate about the "moral imperative" the United States faces in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism and pledged that "no half-measures" will be taken to bring the chaotic situation in that country under control.

According to the GOP congressional leadership aide, the president said the White House will "seriously ramp up the public relations effort" to counter Democratic criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.

Bush promised a "campaign style" drive to bolster public support in which "we're going to say exactly why we're in Iraq," according to the aide.

The president said he will seek supplemental funding from Congress for the rebuilding of Iraq -- expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars -- but provided no specifics.

Some lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, urged the White House to submit its request for additional money for Iraq as soon as possible, said another GOP aide.

"Our people feel sooner rather than later would be better," Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a member of the appropriations committee, said after the meeting.

A third GOP source said the president was encouraged to "be bold" with his request for money and ask for as much as he needs now in order to get the job done right in Iraq.

"The president was told to ask for as much as he may need for the foreseeable future," said the GOP source. "Whatever it is, ask for it now, and make sure you can justify it."

The president, Vice President Dick Cheney, and key advisers including White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met in the Cabinet room with the top GOP leaders of the House and Senate, chairmen of the appropriations committees and other key lawmakers.

Most scattered afterwards, eluding reporters. The White House itself offered no immediate comment on what transpired.

The GOP congressional aide said the economy, energy issues, Medicare, prescription drugs, tort reform and the status of the nation's forests also were discussed, but Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania told reporters "80 percent" of the meeting was about Iraq.

"He is totally committed to seeing this through," said Santorum.

-- CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash and Producer Catherine Berger contributed to this report

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