WASHINGTON – President Bush shocked Capitol Hill staffers and Republican leaders Monday when he crashed a meeting at the White House to deliver a blunt message that he wasn't backing down on Iraq and Republicans need to understand that.
"It was stunning," said one GOP aide who attended the meeting. "We couldn't believe he came in."
"We kept looking at each other, amazed he came in," said another Republican aide.
Bush was described as folksy, adamant and mildly profane as he interrupted the meeting between senior White House communications staffers Tony Snow and Ed Gillespie and GOP leaders. His message: the policy on Iraq isn't changing. He is not backing down and no one on Capitol Hill should be confused into thinking he is letting up.
The interruption precedes what is expected to be an all-nighter in the Senate on Tuesday, ordered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a way to protest GOP blocking tactics on moves to compel U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid said Iraq is the most important issue facing the United States and attempts to block legislation calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq will be met with a hardball response.
"We're going to work on this amendment until we get an up or down vote on it," he said.
Senate Republican leaders, alerted to Reid's plans on Monday, said they have the votes to keep the president's surge policy in place, at least for now, and called Reid's up-all-night gambit a stunt that wouldn't change any minds.
Senior Democratic leadership aides acknowledged that Reid's all-nighter — complete with roll-away beds — is meant to draw public attention to GOP demands that any changes to Iraq policy carry a 60-vote majority.
"Is this a publicity stunt? Yes," a senior Democratic aide told FOX News. "This is the only way we know to highlight their complete ignorance of the will of the people!"
Republicans said they've applied that standard for months on Iraq policy changes and aren't about to change now, especially when recent GOP defections have given Democrats bipartisan majorities on troop drawdowns and other policy changes.
Reid will seek a test vote Wednesday on an amendment by Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island to begin troop withdrawals late this year and have most combat forces out of Iraq by spring 2008.
Republicans predict that amendment will fall well short of the 60 votes required and probably attract no more than 55 votes, possibly fewer. Other non-binding policy changes are expected as well, but nothing is expected to garner the required 60 votes.
"The much-discussed Republican revolt has yet to materialize," a senior GOP aide said.