WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush assailed the Democratic-led Congress on Saturday for challenging him over funding the Iraq war and the firing of federal prosecutors, and demanded that lawmakers back down.
Bush has threatened to veto a bill passed by the House of Representatives that ties a deadline for a troop withdrawal to the latest emergency bill to fund the war.
A showdown is also looming as Democrats in Congress seek testimony under oath of Bush’s close political aide, Karl Rove, and other White House advisers over the ouster last year of eight U.S. attorneys.
The White House has offered to allow the aides to answer questions in closed-door interviews but they would not be under oath and there would be no transcripts made. Congress is investigating whether politics motivated the dismissals of the prosecutors.
In his weekly radio address, Bush accused the lawmakers of provoking an unnecessary confrontation.
Bush said the conditions in the $124 billion emergency bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to micromanaging the war and said it was crucial that Congress approve a bill with no strings by mid-April.
“The clock is running,” he said. “The Secretary of Defense has warned that if Congress does not approve the emergency funding for our troops by April 15, our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions — and so will their families.”
The House bill would set a September 2008 deadline for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
In the U.S. attorneys matter, Bush defended as “reasonable” his offer of interviews with Rove and the other officials.
If there is no compromise, the issue could end up in court and Bush may claim that executive privilege shields his aides from having to testify.
Bush’s twin blasts against the Democrats marked a striking departure from weeks of trying to foster a cooperative spirit with them to make progress on immigration law overhaul, energy initiatives and health care.
White House officials said Bush still wants progress on those issues, but felt compelled to lay down markers on principles close to his heart: the separation of powers between the White House and the legislative branch and his role as commander in chief in charge of the Iraq war.
“These issues that we’re talking about are extremely serious, and on the merits we win the argument,” said a senior administration official.
Analysts said Bush’s tough talk, coming at a time when his popularity is barely over 30 percent, could rally support from conservatives who have been disillusioned with him.
Norman Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said if Bush had not stood up to the Democrats it would “indicate a level of weakness that would really have them running roughshod over him.”
“You can say this response is an appropriate one — show him as a tough leader, and get his base energized. But you can’t ignore the larger reality that he’s got migraines all over the place,” Ornstein said.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland