POLITICS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dems: No Blank Check On Afghanistan Despite General Agreement With Obama

Democratic lawmakers stressed on Tuesday that there was no consensus on whether to hand President Obama a blank check to escalate the war in Afghanistan despite a general agreement to give the president leeway to formulate a strategy going forward.

Briefing the press after an hour-and-a-half-long meeting at the White House, party leaders noted that Democrats had diverse opinions on whether it was wise policy to send an additional 40,000 troops into Afghanistan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a statement that piqued the interest of several congressional offices, said that everyone in the room, "Democrats and Republicans" told the president that "whatever decision you make, we will support it basically."

The remark was vague enough to prompt a follow-up question as to whether Reid was preemptively committing himself to support an increase in troop levels. And indeed, a few moments later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) tried to clear the air by declaring that there had been no absolute commitment to back a strategy of escalation.

"We all respected that he was looking into every aspect of this and that we were, again, honored what he had to say," said Pelosi. "Whether we agreed with it or voted for it remains to be seen, when we see what the president put forth."

Clarifying the remarks an hour or so after the conference was over, Reid's office seemed to echo Pelosi. He was not, an aide said, committing himself or his Democratic colleagues to automatically backing White House policy but rather noting that Republicans had agreed to give the president the time to formulate a final strategy.

"As the president has made clear, the focus of the discussion right now is finding the best strategy to achieve our security interests in the region," the aide said. "Questions of resources will be addressed once the right strategy is determined."

And yet, the perception on the Hill is that the president's plan will end up having, as the aide put it, "broad support in the Senate." It may be a matter of simple political dynamics. The proposal put forth by military commanders in Afghanistan -- which calls for an additional 40,000 troops to help quell insurgent Taliban forces and allied al-Qaeda extremists -- has the backing of much of the Republican Party. And while opposition among Democrats is growing, the votes, as of now, don't seem to be there to block or drastically alter such a policy.

In a conference call with reporters after the White House meeting, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virg.) went so far as to suggest that Democrats were hesitant about the idea of going against the "recommendations of their commander."

"Some on the Armed Services committee were very outspoken," said the Virginia Republican.

The president, for what its worth, seemed aware during the meeting that the policy he ultimately chooses wouldn't be universally popular. Listening to advice from 18 different members of Congress, he promised to move "forward with a sense of urgency," an administration official said.

"The president was clear that he will make the decision that he thinks will best prevent future attacks on the American homeland and our allies," said an administration official. "He also made it clear that his decision won't make everybody in the room or the nation happy, but underscored his commitment to work on a collaborative basis with the understanding that everyone wants what is best for the country."

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