By MARGARET TALEV
The four co-sponsors - a conservative and a libertarian Republican, and a liberal and a moderate Democrat - acknowledged that the Republicans who control the House, Senate and White House do not support the idea of a timetable. But they predicted that, coming at a time of sinking public support for the war and growing discontent over U.S. casualties, their resolution would spur a public dialogue that could force President Bush to outline an exit strategy.
"The American people are going to contact their member of Congress and say, 'Please, look at this resolution,' " said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., the co-sponsor who has drawn the most attention because he once so strongly supported the March 2003 invasion that he led the campaign to rename French fries as "freedom fries" to protest France's opposition. "I really believe that we've got an opportunity to build national support for this resolution."
Bush has maintained that a timetable would do more harm than good, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan echoed that position Thursday.
"This message would say to the terrorists, 'All you have to do is wait until that day when our troops leave, and then you can start carrying out those attacks' and, 'Just hold out,' " McClellan said.
At the same time, the administration seemed to be acknowledging public sentiment is at a tipping point. McClellan said the president planned to focus more of his public remarks on the situation in Iraq in the coming weeks; would meet next week in Washington with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari; and plans to address Americans on the status of the conflict on June 28th, the one-year anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq.
A recent Gallup poll shows nearly six in 10 Americans want at least a partial withdrawal to begin, and a Pew survey found more than one-third of Americans fear Iraq is becoming another Vietnam.
"The president recognizes that this is a concern that's on the minds of the American people," McClellan said of the war in general. "And that's why he's going to sharpen his focus, spending more time talking about the progress that's being made on the ground - there is significant progress that has been made in a short period of time - the dangers that remain and that lie ahead, as well as our strategy for victory in Iraq. It's important to keep the American people informed. It's important to note some of the progress that has been made."
The resolution - by Jones and Reps. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who serves with Jones on the House Armed Services Committee, Ron Paul, R-Texas, a retired Air Force flight surgeon who serves on House International Relations; and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who ran unsuccessfully for his party's nomination for president last year on an anti-war platform - calls on the president to announce by year's end a plan for withdrawal, and to begin executing that plan by Oct. 1, 2006. It does not set an end date. Even if the resolution were adopted, it would serve only as a recommendation to the president.
As they took turns at the microphone at a news conference to announce their resolution, the congressmen spoke of what has been accomplished to date: the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the holding of elections and the training of Iraqi security forces. They also spoke of the costs of the war - more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers dead and $200 billion spent - and an entrenched insurgency. And they highlighted what they see as other pressing concerns for the United States: a nuclear threat from North Korea, jobs being lost to China, security concerns along the border with Mexico.
Theirs is the latest in what has been a flurry over the past two weeks of mostly Democratic efforts to begin pulling troops out of Iraq. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., offered an unsuccessful amendment to legislation on the House floor last month. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was advocating an amendment to give the president one month after the enactment of the defense appropriations bill to submit a report to Congress explaining his criteria for when to start pulling out of Iraq. And Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., earlier this week introduced a resolution in the Senate asking the president to set a timetable.
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