WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday called on Congress to set aside partisanship in the increasingly tense Iraq debate and asked for patience on his strategy there even as administration officials set out to clarify apparently misinterpreted remarks by a general over when Congress next would be briefed on progress in Iraq.
"It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field and give them everything they need to succeed," Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden after he met with military support groups in the White House.
Bush criticized Congress for not acting on his defense spending request, which he said included equipment upgrades and troop pay raises. The bill would take effect Oct. 1, at the beginning of the next fiscal cycle.
"It's a comprehensive spending request that Congress has failed to act on. Instead, the Democratic leaders chose to have a political debate on a precipitous withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. ... Even members of Congress who no longer support our effort in Iraq should at least be able to provide an increase in pay for our troops fighting there," Bush said.
The remarks come two days after the Senate's defense authorization bill failed a key vote. Democrats had included a measure that would have required a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days of final passage of the bill and set April as a final deadline to remove combat troops. Other troops would have remained for training and counterinsurgency purposes.
Bush also called for patience from an increasingly edgy Congress.
"I also ask Congress to give our troops time to carry out our new strategy in Iraq. Like all wars, the fight in Iraq has had frustrating setbacks. It's also had important successes," he said, pointing to decreased violence in Anbar province and a key capture of an Al Qaeda leader this week.
Bush's comments come as administration officials are sorting out conflicting reports over comments made Thursday by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno in Iraq.
While speaking with reporters on Thursday, Odierno also said it's necessary to have more time to assess the situation in Iraq in the context of the troop surge, which officials say has only begun in earnest in the last month or so, when troop levels hit their peak.
"As we give our assessment in September, it's important that we have a bit more time so we can do evaluation of this progress. And I think it's important that we're allowed to do that, because we want to be honest and forthright," Odierno said.
In response to a follow-up question about the need for more time, Odierno said:
"What I said was, you know, in order to do a good assessment, I need at least until November to do that assessment. ... If I have 45 more days of looking at those trends, I'll be able to make a bit more accurate assessment if it's something that we think is going to continue or something that was just a blip. ... And then I would argue that in order to see if it's a long-term (trend), you would still need a little bit more time. But I was referring to September when I said that."
When asked about his bringing up November, Odierno responded: "No, no. What I was saying is, again, my remarks were: In 45 days I will have a better idea if the trends are continuing, and that's September. Obviously, we have an assessment we will conduct in September that will provide — that Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will provide. I was not looking at extending that time frame when they have to report back."
He added: "What I imagine we'll have to do is do assessments that follow that initial assessment in September. And that's — I'm assuming we'll continue to do assessments while we're here."
But several outlets, including The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The New York Times, reported that Odierno was suggesting he needed more time past September to assess the situation in Iraq, leading the White House and Odierno on Friday to try to clarify Odierno's original statements.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the administration still is aiming for the September report, and Odierno issued a short statement from Baghdad.
"There is no intention to push our reporting requirement beyond September. Nothing I said yesterday should be interpreted to suggest otherwise," Odierno said, according to a statement. "My reference to November was simply suggesting that as we go forward beyond September, we will gain more understanding of trends."
FOX News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.