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Some Democrats Reluctant On Afghan Strategy

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

On Capitol Hill, the president's fellow Democrats are deeply divided over the expected troop buildup. In fact, support for the new Afghan strategy is far stronger among Republican lawmakers that could leave the president counting on some of them to approve extra funding for the war.

NPRs David Welna has our story.

DAVID WELNA: Even before President Obama has unveiled his new Afghanistan plan, some congressional Democrats are calling it a big mistake. At a news conference this afternoon here at the capitol, Massachusetts House Democrat Jim McGovern said the president alone should not be calling the shots on Afghanistan.

Representative JAMES MCGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): I would urge that before a single additional troop is sent, that Congress have a chance to fully debate this proposal and have an up or down vote. This is a big deal. This is a major escalation. And Congress has a major role to play.

WELNA: Alongside McGovern stood Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. He, too, opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Senator RUSSELL FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): I was just at our Democratic Conference lunch, and I spoke out on this. And I wont say who said what, but the number of people who joined me in expressing these very concerns was significant. Many members of my caucus, and I believe members of the Republican caucus, perhaps from different philosophical perspectives, will come to the same conclusion that this is a mistake to move in the direction of this huge troop buildup.

WELNA: Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed to what she called serious unrest among House Democrats over the war. Today she was backed up on that by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Representative STENY H. HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): There isnt any doubt that the speaker is correct in terms of their great reservations within our caucus about escalating our efforts.

WELNA: Even some of President Obamas closest allies in Congress are unwilling to pledge support. Senator Bob Casey is a Democrat from Pennsylvania.

Senator BOB CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): We've got to be thoughtful and just as the president engaged in a multi-week review, I think the Congress needs to do the same as well.

WELNA: Is it good (unintelligible) Democrats this issue?

Sen. CASEY: Potentially it could, but we have to get it right and if that means there's a division, there's a division.

WELNA: The Senates number two Democrat Dick Durbin says he already sees a big split in his party over Afghanistan.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): There's no question, there's divided thinking. I mean, when the Iraq invasion came up, I was in the minority in my caucus of 23 who voted against it. So, I would expect there will be some on the Democratic side of the House and Senate who will oppose any troop increase.

WELNA: And do you think that the president is going to have to rely on at least some Republicans?

Sen. DURBIN: Yes, I think he will.

WELNA: But the president likely will rely even more on Democrats to approve more war funding, one of them is Senator John Tester of Montana.

Senator JOHN TESTER (Democrat, Montana): I dont want to see additional troops be put in harms away, but if its necessary to get the conflict over with quicker, then I can support it.

WELNA: And so would California Democrat Dianne Feinstein who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): You have to win, you have to have a strategy to win. And I think General McChrystal has presented a strategy to win. And well see what - how the president use it.

WELNA: Californias other Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, is far more skeptical. Views, She says she is heartened by reports the president will outline an exit strategy tonight.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): I think the exit strategy is very important and Im very glad that there is an exit strategy. But on the question of troops, additional troops, I just dont see how the numbers add up to send another 30,000 troops in there.

WELNA: Many Democrats also questioned spending more on an enormously costly war thats opposed by many Americans at a time of high unemployment and record deficits. But a chance to vote on additional war funding likely wont happen until next spring.

David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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