Exclusive: White House to host members of Congress to build support for keeping 50,000 in Iraq
Rachel Oswald
Published: Thursday February 26, 2009

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President Obama took steps today to bolster support for his as yet unofficially announced troop withdrawal plan that would leave up to 50,000 troops in Iraq by inviting a small group of Congressional leaders over to the White House for a Thursday briefing.

A senior Congressional aide told Raw Story that the members of Congress would be informed of "the totality of his plans" prior to Obama's speech on Iraq tomorrow and would be briefed this afternoon. The staffer declined to identify specific members, having not been authorized to speak publicly about the issue.

With the news that the president will likely propose leaving up to 50,000 observer troops in Iraq past the withdrawal of all other American forces, some members of Congress are still making up their minds about the plan, while others, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have questioned the prudence of maintaining such a large American force.

In a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Pelosi spoke disapprovingly of the high troop number.

"I don't know what the justification is for the presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq," Pelosi said. "I do think that there's a need for some. But I don't think that all of them have to be in country. They can be platformed outside. ... I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000 ... 15 or 20,000."

Prominent Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) also appeared only conditionally supportive of Obama's plan in a statement Thursday.

"After years of failed Iraq policies, I am pleased by reports that President Obama plans to significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by August 2010," Feingold said in a statement issued moments ago. "Our presence in Iraq has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, overburdened our military, fueled anti-Americanism and distracted us from the global threat posed by al Qaeda. I am concerned, however, by reports that tens of thousands of U.S. troops may remain in Iraq beyond August 2010. I question whether such a large force is needed to combat any al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq or whether it will contribute to stability in the region."

Others are reserving judgment.

"I trust that the president carefully considered the recommendations of his military commanders," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said in comments provided to Raw Story. "If they firmly believe that a withdrawal of most combat troops within 19 months is prudent, then I could support that decision."

"However, I have not heard from them in detail on this issue, so I can't comment on that specific recommendation," Chambliss added. "My position has always been that we should not stay in Iraq a day longer than necessary, but we should stay until the Iraqi government can effectively provide for the safety, security and well-being of its people without a large U.S. presence."

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the meeting would take place on Wednesday. It is actually scheduled for today.

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