WASHINGTON – President Bush declined on Wednesday an invitations sent by Democrats to meet with them on Capitol Hill on Friday, with his spokeswoman saying he looks forward to a meeting already set for next week.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said she hoped that the tone of the invitation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats "is not indicative of how the Democrats plan to so-called 'work together' to address" the dispute over attaching a timetable for withdrawal to any troop funding.
Democrats sent a letter to Bush earlier in the day asking him to come up to Capitol Hill after they rejected what they say are "preconditions" on the White House meeting set to discuss stalled legislation that would fund American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray urged Bush to meet with them to "work together to produce legislation that both fully funds the troops and provides them a real strategy for success."
“If the president is serious and not as isolated as people thinks he is, maybe he will take us up on this,” Reid said after sending the letter to Bush. "I think there should be Democrats and Republicans telling him what he needs to hear. Obviously, at the White House, all they are doing is telling him what he wants to hear.”
Bush stands firm in his position to veto any bill that includes a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Perino said Democrats have a standing invitiation to come to the White House next Wednesday.
"The president extended an invitation to meet when the House is back next week, and the majority leader responds with vitriolic language that is wildly inaccurate," Perino told FOX News. "It seems to me that the senator is the one who is isolated — he's got his hands over his ears refusing to listen to the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff about when they need the funds for the troops, which is now. And he's refusing to listen to the military experts and Prime Minister Maliki who say that an arbitrary date for a forced retreat is a terrible idea for the Iraqis, the region, and Americans."
Perino said the president hopes they will come to the White House and send him a bill to sign.
“At some point, the Democrats are going to have to come together and figure out a way to get the president a clean bill that he can sign in order for the troops to get the money that they need,” Perino told reporters in her daily briefing.
According to White House officials, Reid had accepted Bush's invitation for the meeting next Wednesday. But Reid's spokesman suggested the leader doesn't have much to say if the president doesn't want to discuss a timetable for withdrawal.
"If this is the meeting where the president seemed to rule out any hint of negotiations, then it's unlikely Sen. Reid will be attending," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "However, if this is the latest in a series of bipartisan, bicameral leadership meetings ... where we can discuss a wide range of issues, then that's something Sen. Reid would be going to."
A bipartisan group of senators met with Bush to discuss their recent trip to Iraq. Sens. John Sununu, R-N.H., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., headed to the White House Wednesday morning.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., suggested Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are more interested in political points than policy. Pelosi, Kyl said, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus last week, but refuses to go to the White House.
"I am concerned that Democratic leaders are willing to meet with state sponsors of terrorism, yet are reluctant to accept an invitation to meet with the president of the United States," Kyl said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Reid and Pelosi said they would only accept an invitation to speak with Bush if the offer is made for "serious negotiations without any preconditions."
"The president is inviting us down to the White House with preconditions. That's not the way things should operate. The president is now having to deal with a Congress. He has never had to do that before," Reid said. "He wants us to go down there and say, 'I want a clean bill.' That's not negotiating."
Reid and Pelosi first invited Bush to meet on March 28. In the letter sent to Bush on Wednesday, the senators said they were "so disappointed yesterday to hear that you are not willing to engage in meaningful discussion with the Congress about the path forward in Iraq."
They also called on Bush to "begin bridging the differences between your Iraq policy and that supported by the Congress late last month."
House and Senate negotiators still need to agree on a final version of the war spending bill before it can be sent to the president. The Senate version sets an exit date to begin within 120 days of the bill's passage, with a completion goal of March 31, 2008. The House bill orders all combat troops out by Sept. 1, 2008.
Besides deadlines for withdrawal, the House version calls for $124 billion in spending while the Senate version is $122 billion. About $20 billion of those sums is for pet projects at home.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Trish Turner contributed to this report.