WASHINGTON – Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott says President Bush's new strategy in Iraq has until about fall before GOP members will need to see results.
Lott's comment Monday put a fine point on what Senate Republican stalwarts have been discussing quietly for weeks. It also echoed remarks made this weekend by House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicating the GOP's limited patience on the war.
"I do think this fall we have to see some significant changes on the ground, in Baghdad and other surrounding areas," Lott, R-Miss., told reporters.
Lott declined to say what he thinks should happen if Congress does not see improvement in the security situation by then. But he said lawmakers have time before they must decide.
Bush announced in January that he planned to send to Iraq 21,500 more combat troops, plus several thousand more support troops, in an attempt to tamp down violence in Baghdad and the western Anbar province. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said he could give a better assessment in September of whether the strategy is working.
Republicans have agreed to uphold Bush's veto of $124.2 billion legislation that would have funded the war but called for troops to start coming home this fall. Without the two-thirds majority support needed to override Bush's veto, Democrats this week were redrafting the bill.
White House officials have sought to play down the expectations of the September review as merely a progress report, but many Republicans have latched onto the date as a critical juncture. War funding for this fiscal year, while still under negotiation, is expected to run out Sept. 30.
"Obviously, his (Petraeus') response or developments will make a difference in the next fiscal year," said Lott.
Lott said he generally agreed with Boehner, who told "Fox News Sunday" that, "By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B."