After weeks of acrimonious sparring over financing the next phase of the war, President Bush and congressional leaders softened their tone on Wednesday but failed to resolve their differences over a timeline for removing most U.S. combat troops from Iraq next year.
Bush met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the White House for nearly an hour, the first face-to-face discussion since the House and Senate passed emergency Iraq spending bills last month with provisions to end the war. Democrats said they would send the president legislation by the end of next week, despite his pledge to veto it.
"We believe he must search his soul, his conscience, and find out what is the right thing for the American people," Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, told reporters after the meeting. "I believe signing this bill will do that."
The White House, though, said Bush had no intention of signing any legislation that included a call for a troop withdrawal. Democrats do not have enough support to override a veto, so the debate over financing the troops remains at an impasse.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said, "The president, obviously, as you already know, is not going to accept language that specifies a date for surrender or language that micromanages the efforts of our military in Iraq."
The discussions took place on one of the deadliest days of the year in Baghdad, where at least 171 people were killed in bombings. Democrats said the violence underscored the urgency of finding a new direction in Iraq, one that did not place U.S. troops in the middle of a civil war.
At the beginning of the meeting, Bush declared, "People have strong opinions around the table and I'm looking forward to listening to them." And for the next hour, according to participants and aides in the room, a frank conversation unfolded between the president and the 10 legislative leaders seated around the table in the Cabinet Room.
A White House official who attended the meeting, and spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe details, said Bush's first question to the Democratic leaders was, "When can you get me a bill?"
And, this official said, Bush told the Democrats that he hoped to ultimately follow several of the guidelines set forth last year in a report by the Iraq Study Group.