Democratic Leaders, Bush Agree to New Advisory Panel on Iraq

Democratic leaders have agreed with President Bush to create a bipartisan Iraq advisory group to offer ideas on the way forward, with members to be named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Also, a bipartisan delegation is headed to the White House Wednesday afternoon to meet with the president about their recent visit by lawmakers to Iraq.

"This afternoon, the president had a good phone conversation with Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi. They all agreed to creating a bipartisan consultative group on Iraq. The group will meet for the first time next week," a White House official said Tuesday.

The president called for an advisory group of lawmakers and outside experts during his State of the Union Address. The idea arose during consultations between Bush and independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Democratic leaders initially rejected it but agreed to the idea only after the president agreed to allow the Democrats to appoint the members, a Democratic source said.

"They had a good conversation," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly told FOX News, referring to the phone call with the president.

Pelosi will be joined at the White House by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., and Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa.

All three told reporters Tuesday that they returned from a recent trip to Iraq more pessimistic than ever about the course of events there and whether the president's proposal for a U.S. troop increase of 21,500, along with the Iraqi government's effort to quell sectarian violence and create stability in Baghdad, will have a positive effect.

"The escalation instituted by President Bush has been tried before and failed," Pelosi said. "Although we heard varying judgments about the prospects for success this time, everyone we spoke to said this was the one last chance and it might not work."

"Concerning Iraq, the troops are better than their mission. This truly is of great concern to me. It's hard to come away from Iraq without being pessimistic," Skelton said.

Despite the pessimism on Capitol Hill and possible resolutions disapproving of the president's plan, the political dynamic on Capitol Hill may have shifted slightly following the appearance of James Baker, the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, on Tuesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Baker endorsed the troop "surge" in Iraq and urged the Senate to "give it a chance."

"The president's plan ought to be given a chance," Baker said. "Just give it a chance."

Baker, a former secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, said it was wrong for the Senate to confirm Army Gen. David Petraeus to lead the new Iraq mission at the same time it was moving to pass non-binding resolutions opposing the deployment of U.S. forces to Baghdad and al Anbar province. Some of those forces have already been deployed.

Many critics have cited the ISG, which in November published 79 recommendations for getting the United States of Iraq successfully, as the basis for opposing the troop surge. References to the ISG's military and diplomatic recommendations are cited in both leading resolutions opposing the new Iraq plan.

But with Baker's endorsement, opponents of non-binding resolutions may have new ammunition to argue against the Senate sending any signal of opposition to the new plan.

Those remarks came as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday said that Democrats are considering a number of policy changes for the war in Iraq — either through the appropriations or authorizations process or during review of an emergency supplemental request for war funding expected from the administration.

"We have made it very clear that we do not believe the president's proposal for increase in troops in Iraq at the levels he has proposed are going to have the effect that he says they will have," said Hoyer, D-Md.

"We are joined by military leaders, we believe we are joined by the [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki government. We are joined by the Iraq Study Group, all of whom believe that this was not a policy that they would recommend, notwithstanding that the president is pursuing it."

Empty House Briefing Room

Though all 435 members of the House were invited to participate in a classified briefing Wednesday morning providing an update on implementation of the president's surge strategy in Iraq, only about 25-30 members accepted the invitation.

The two-hour closed event at started at 8:00 a.m. EST. Members who attended told FOX News that the meeting was "helpful" and "useful" in that the officials essentially confirmed a lot of what has been reported publicly about the strategy.

Department of Defense Undersecretary for Policy Eric Edelman, who was testifying later in the day to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the troop surge, appeared with the directors of intelligence and operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a high ranking State Department official, for a closed-door briefing.

Freshman Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., said the briefing "cemented (his) conviction" that the president’s policy of "escalation" is the wrong answer for Iraq at this time. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., was guarded in answering questions about the details of the briefing but said the meeting was "informative" and members "were able to talk about strategy with people who really know what’s going on on the ground."

FOX News' Major Garrett and Molly Hooper contributed to this report.