As President Bush prepares to deliver his State of the Union address Wednesday, opposition Democrats in Congress say the real tests of success in Iraq still lie ahead. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to praise the Iraqi election result.
As the White House provided a few more general points on the president's State of the Union speech, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate expanded on remarks earlier in the week about Iraq and domestic issues.
President Bush goes into his fifth State of the Union address with a strong card to play -- the Iraqi election.
Anticipating this, Senator Democratic Minority leader Harry Reid tried to keep the media focused on the topic on everyone's mind, the ability of Iraqis to take over more responsibility for security: "By just about any reliable estimate you have, there is less than 10-thousand Iraqis who are trained really to be good police and soldiers. And we may have to have a big movement to go outside of the country to do that training. I think that is important that we do that, until the Iraqis can take charge of the violence in their own country it's tough sledding for them."
Senator Reid says Mr. Bush needs to make a strong personal appeal to European governments and others to assist not only in training but Iraq's reconstruction.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says that is exactly what Mr. Bush is likely to do: "There are a number of ways countries can participate in Iraq and help the Iraqi people and we hope that they all see this historic opportunity before us to build upon what occurred this last weekend."
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi denies Democrats are trying to put President Bush, as the saying goes, between a rock and a hard place (in an unwinnable situation).
The House minority leader says the president needs to have a plan for Iraq and then carry it out: "The president not only needs to talk about it, he has to have a plan of action on how it will be implemented, and a timetable, not for leaving Iraq, but a timetable for putting a process in place that will enable the elections that happen in December 2005 to happen without such a strong U.S. military presence."
Democrats are walking a fine line of not wanting to denigrate the results of Sunday's Iraq election, and at the same time, drawing attention to the costs in lives and money of the U.S. occupation.
Republicans say they expect the president to use the Iraq election as a clear sign his policies are working.(Republican) Congresswoman Candice Miller spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives: "Some politicians have said we should not over-hype (exaggerate) this election. Pardon me, if I disagree. We should trumpet every victory for freedom from the highest mountain tops."
But Senate Republican Majority leader Bill Frist agrees the president needs to reach out to allies for help in Iraq: "The real signal I think that has been sent is, let's have international participation at this juncture to help both in terms of security, and further along towards the Iraqi people's self-government."
On the reform of social security, the administration's domestic priority, the president is expected to address the concerns Democrats as well as some Republicans have expressed. Democratic lawmakers say they will wait with their response to hear what Mr. Bush has to say.
The House and Senate Democratic leaders will deliver their formal response to the President just after he finishes his State of the Union address.