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Inside Politics

Despite polls, the GOP stands by their man on Iraq

Story Highlights

• Poll suggests Americans want troop withdrawal deadline by 2-1 margin
• But by 2-1 margin, polled Republicans say they don't want deadline
• Republicans in Congress stick with the war, for now
From Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There's a standoff between Congress and President Bush over Iraq. Whose side are the people on?

By nearly two to one (59 percent to 33 percent in a recent Pew Research Center poll), Americans say they want their representative to vote for a bill setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Pew poll was conducted March 22-25 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Democratic leaders say they are listening. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said, "We feel extremely comfortable because we're speaking for the American people, and you should understand what the American people are saying."

Meanwhile, President Bush invited the entire House Republican membership to the White House to back up his threat to veto a bill imposing a deadline for withdrawal. After meeting with Republicans, President Bush said, "We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded." (Watch President Bush vow to veto the Senate's war spending bill Video)

Only two Republicans in the House -- Reps. Wayne Gilchrist, R-Maryland, and Walter Jones, R-North Carolina -- and two in the Senate -- Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, and Gordon Smith, R-Oregon -- voted to support a deadline. Other Republicans are standing with President Bush, despite public opinion. That's a dangerous thing to do in a democracy, as Republicans learned in the election last November.

So why are they doing it? For one thing, their base is with them. Most Republican voters continue to support President Bush. Republican opinion on Iraq is almost exactly the reverse of the country as a whole: By 59 percent to 34 percent, Republicans want their representative to vote against a deadline, according to the Pew poll.

Republican political consultant David Winston argues that, with a new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, Republicans see a change of direction in Iraq. "I would suggest that this is more about Petraeus than the president,'' Winston said.

Republicans don't see the Democratic alternative as compelling. "You're not seeing any clear consensus on the Democratic side in terms of what direction, policy-wise, they want to go on the war," Winston added.

Actually, the prevailing public view is that Democratic congressional leaders are about right (40 percent) or have not gone far enough (30 percent) in challenging President Bush on Iraq. Fewer than a quarter (23 percent) believe Democrats have gone too far.

Republicans are standing with the president. The question is, for how long?

"There has to be some results at the end here, and the president has to provide them,'' Winston said. "If he doesn't, I think you're going to see Republicans begin to rethink their positions. Quite clearly."

It's a basic fact of politics. President Bush never has to face the voters again. Republicans in Congress do.

Republican lawmakers, for the most part, have stuck with President Bush on Iraq, but will public opposition to the war cause them to shift their stance?



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