WASHINGTON – President Bush warned Congress on Friday that he will veto any legislation that includes a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
"If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether I'll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one," Bush said during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David, Md.
Bush's promise comes as Democrats scramble to map out their next strategic move for when the president vetoes a $124 billion war-spending bill that includes a timetable to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.
The president stood by his position to allow time for his strategy to work on the ground in Iraq before setting a timetable.
"If they want to try again that which I've said is unacceptable, of course I won't accept it," Bush said. "I hope it won't come to that."
Bush said after he vetoes the bill, he wants congressional leaders to come to the White House to discuss a “way forward’ in Iraq.
The White House called the bill “dead before arrival” on Thursday after the Senate passed the measure, 51-46, 80 days after Bush sent his budget request to Congress.
Bush repeatedly has demanded a war-funding bill from Congress that does not include withdrawal plans. It, therefore, will come as no surprise when he vetoes the measure likely next week.
The bill sets a timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq beginning October 1, with a goal of completing the pullout in six months.
Two Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent senator voted in favor of the bill.
Democratic leaders stood firm behind the legislation, despite Bush’s veto threat.
“We have carried forth the wishes of the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who last week declared the war in Iraq is lost.
The question for Democrats now is: what's next?
There is no consensus among party leaders on an answer.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he has spoken with Reid about how to proceed after the veto.
“There are a number of members of my conference who do think that benchmarks could be helpful, depending upon how they’re crafted,” McConnell said. “And that’ll be among the many items we discuss in moving forward and getting the money to the troops as quickly as possible.”
Democrats need to make a decision to fund the troops or continue to play politics, said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
“I think what they’re going to have to do is make a decision. Look, are we going to continue down the road playing politics or do we really care about those men and women in uniform? And if they do, then they’ll come back and we’ll send the president a clean supplemental,” Chambliss told FOX News.
Chambliss called Reid’s “war is lost” comments from last week “almost un-American.”
“I think it’s almost un-American to come out and tell the enemy that they’ve won and we’ve lost. It’s pure politics and I hope the American people really let the Democrats know that it’s the people fighting this war that really do deserve our support,” Chambliss said.
The New York Times reported that some Democrats want to send Bush a bill that he will sign, without the timetables for withdrawal but others push for standing firm behind the antiwar message from Congress.
House Democrats with military policy muscle want to give troops funding for a few months but pressure the White House with other Pentagon-related legislation. Another set of lawmakers want to implement the recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, the Times reported.
Whatever they decide, the message coming from the White House is clear: Bush does not support the bill passed by Democrats, and Democrats may not be able to pass the bill the president wants.
“Eighty days after President Bush submitted his troop funding bill, the Senate has now joined the House in passing defeatist legislation that insists on a date for surrender, micromanages our commanders and generals in combat zones from 6,000 miles away, and adds billions of dollars in unrelated spending to the fighting on the ground,” said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, met in closed briefings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday, and with reporters Thursday. Petraeus said Al Qaeda, the terrorist group behind most violence in Iraq, is listening to the Democratic rhetoric.
"One thing that he reminded us was, this is a test of wills and he admonished us, reminded us that what we say to the world, to our adversaries and our allies, is listened to by the other side," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Republican candidate for president.
The New York Times contributed to this story.