WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday phoned President Bush to air her complaints over Vice President Dick Cheney's comments that the Congressional Democrats' plan for Iraq would "validate the Al Qaeda strategy."
Pelosi, who said she could not reach the president, said Cheney's comments wrongly questioned critics' patriotism and ignored Bush's call for openness on Iraq strategy.
"You cannot say as the president of the United States, 'I welcome disagreement in a time of war,' and then have the vice president of the United States go out of the country and mischaracterize a position of the speaker of the House and in a manner that says that person in that position of authority is acting against the national security of our country," the speaker said.
The quarrel began in Tokyo, where Cheney used an interview to criticize Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., over their plan to place restrictions on Bush's request for an additional $93 billion for the Iraq war to make it difficult or impossible to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq.
"I think if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we will do is validate the Al Qaeda strategy," the vice president told ABC News. "The Al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people ... try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit."
Pelosi, at a news conference in San Francisco, said Cheney's criticism of Democrats was "beneath the dignity of the debate we're engaged in and a disservice to our men and women in uniform, whom we all support."
"And you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to call the president and tell him I disapprove of what the vice president said," Pelosi said. "It has no place in our debate." Bush had previously urged her to call him when a member of his administration stepped over the line by questioning Democrats' patriotism, she said.
Later, Pelosi said she had tried to reach the president but was only able to get through to White House chief of staff Josh Bolten.
Bolten said he was certain no one was questioning her patriotism or commitment to national security, she told reporters.
"I said to him perhaps when he saw what the vice president said he might have another comment," Pelosi said. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Cheney "was not questioning anyone's patriotism." But she said Bush and Cheney believe that Pelosi and Murtha's "position to immediately pull out our troops would be harmful to our national security and that it is the wrong strategy to pursue."
Pelosi said she hopes "the president will repudiate and distance himself from the vice president's remarks."
In the interview, Cheney also said Britain's plans to withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq — while the United States adds more troops — was a positive step. "I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," the vice president said.
In response to that statement, Pelosi said: "If it's going so well, we'd like to withdraw our troops as well."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, said Britain's withdrawal, coupled with a Denmark's announcement to pull out its 460 troops by August, "accelerates the breakup of the coalition in Iraq."
He said the United States should reduce its forces "as a way of pressuring the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future and to reach the political settlements that are essential to end the sectarian violence and defeat the insurgency."
Administration leaders, however, said Britain's decision was good news.
"The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis as the situation permits," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference in Berlin, where she was in meetings on the Mideast peace process.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said the decision "reflects the progress that has been made on the ground in Basra and in the south," where British troops were stationed.
"So this is basically a good news story, an indication that progress is being made, and that events on the ground permit this kind of adjustment in forces," Hadley said. Still, he acknowledged the violence in Baghdad and said, "I'm not saying this is an unalloyed picture of progress."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.