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In a blunt face-to-face meeting in the residential area of the White House this week, moderate House Republicans told President George W. Bush he no longer has the trust of them or the American people.
The "come to Jesus meeting" with Bush reminded veteran political observers in Washington of 1974 when then-Senator Barry Goldwater met with President Richard M. Nixon to tell him he no longer had enough support on Capitol Hill to survive as President.
While no one at the meeting called on the President to resign, the Republicans told Bush his administration lacked any credibility when it came to statements about "progress" in the Iraq war and said the American public did not believe the President on the war and other issues.
Unless the war shows "significant progress" by September 1, they warned, Bush faces "massive defections" within GOP ranks from support for his war.
Report Carl Hulce and Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times:
Moderate Republicans gave President Bush a blunt warning on his Iraq policy at a private White House meeting this week, telling the president that conditions needed to improve markedly by fall or more Republicans would desert him on the war.
The White House session demonstrated the grave unease many Republicans are feeling about the war, even as they continue to stand with the president against Democratic efforts to force a withdrawal of forces through a spending measure that has been a flash point for weeks.
Participants in the Tuesday meeting between Mr. Bush, senior administration officials and 11 members of a moderate bloc of House Republicans said the lawmakers were unusually candid with the president, telling him that public support for the war was crumbling in their swing districts.
One told Mr. Bush that voters back home favored a withdrawal even if it meant the war was judged a loss. Representative Tom Davis told Mr. Bush that the presidentâ€™s approval rating was at 5 percent in one section of his northern Virginia district.
â€œIt was a tough meeting in terms of people being as frank as they possibly could about their districts and their feelings about where the American people are on the war,â€ said Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois, who took part in the session, which lasted more than an hour in the residential section of the White House. â€œIt was a no-holds-barred meeting.â€
Several of the Republican moderates who visited the White House have already come under political attack at home for their support of Mr. Bush and survived serious Democratic challenges in November.
Representative Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, an alliance of about 30 moderate Republican lawmakers, helped arrange the meeting. He said lawmakers wanted to convey the frustration and impatience with the war they are hearing from voters. â€œWe had a very frank conversation about the situation in Iraq,â€ he said.
Even so, the Republicans who attended the White House session indicated that they would maintain solidarity with Mr. Bush for now by opposing the latest Democratic proposal for two-stage financing of war, which is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in the House.
Report Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post:
Participants in Tuesday's White House meeting said frustration about the Iraqi government's efforts dominated the conversation, with one pleading with the president to stop the Iraqi parliament from going on vacation while "our sons and daughters spill their blood." The House members pressed Bush and Gates hard for a "Plan B" if the current troop increase fails to quell the violence and push along political reconciliation. Davis said that administration officials convinced him there are contingency plans, but that the president declined to offer details, saying that if he announced his backup plan, the world would shift its focus to that contingency, leaving the current strategy no time to succeed.
Davis, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also presented Bush dismal polling figures to dramatize just how perilous the party's position is, participants said. Davis would not disclose details, saying the exchange was private. Others warned Bush that his personal credibility on the war is all but gone.
Snow, who sat in on the meeting in the president's private quarters, said it should not be overdramatized or seen as another "marching up to Nixon," a reference to the critical moment during Watergate in 1974 when key congressional Republicans went to the White House to tell President Richard M. Nixon that it was time to resign.
"This is not one of those great cresting moments when party discontents are coming in to read the president the riot act," he said. But Snow acknowledged that the meeting included some blunt, if respectful, discussion.
Davis stressed that Republicans will remain united against the Democratic bill in the House today. But the search for an exit is almost inevitable. "The key for everybody is to try to find a way to declare victory and get out of there," he said.