President summons congressional leaders on Afghanistan strategy

President summons congressional leaders on Afghanistan strategy

Congressional leaders from both parties will head to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation in Afghanistan.


The meeting comes amid mounting casualties in the eight-year war and as President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration Trump’s first year in office was the year of the woman MORE weighs a pending request for 40,000 more troops from the leading commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

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It is the first time in six months that House Republican leaders have been invited to the White House to discuss official business; Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorEric Cantor: Moore ‘deserves to lose’ If we want to make immigration great again, let's make it bipartisan Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns MORE (R-Va.) are both scheduled to attend. If Obama decides to send all the troops McChrystal wants, he will probably need Republican votes to sustain the escalation.

National Security Adviser Gen. Jim  Jones will brief the full House on the Afghanistan situation in a closed meeting later this week in the Capitol Visitor Center.

The Democrats who run Congress are skeptical of sending more troops to Afghanistan. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last month that there is not support for more troops “in the country or the Congress.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president’s briefing to leadership, key chairmen and ranking Republicans will give him a chance “to walk them through where we are in the process and solicit their views.”

“The president has discussed wanting to hear from all of those that are involved in this, and certainly Congress plays a big role in this,” Gibbs said in his daily press briefing.

Also on Monday, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (Ariz.), Obama’s Republican rival for the presidency in 2008, said he believes Obama will support the troop increase, but said it should happen more quickly.

“More of them are in harm’s way, the longer we delay,” McCain said during an appearance on the Don Imus radio show.

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the House leadership team, on Monday said there is no reason to rush a decision.

“We’ve been in Afghanistan for eight years. We can take a little more time,” Van Hollen said. “It’s more important to get it right.”

Thirty-one lawmakers are scheduled to attend the White House  briefing, including Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.), Pelosi, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE, Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (D-Ill.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Carl LevinCarl LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies MORE (D-Mich.) and McCain, and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Cantor.

Gibbs repeated his assertion that Obama is still weeks away from making a strategic decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The president is confident with where we are in the process,” he said.

Liberal groups have started mobilizing on Afghanistan, though sometimes with less zeal than they showed when protesting President George W. Bush on Iraq. On Sunday, MoveOn.org urged members to sign a petition telling Obama and Congress that “We need a clear military exit strategy — not tens of thousands more U.S. troops stuck in a quagmire.”

Republicans are also turning up the pressure. The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday sent out news releases challenging House Armed Services Committee Democrats from conservative districts to say whether they support McChrystal’s request.

Gibbs ruled out leaving Afghanistan after the topic was discussed on several of the Sunday morning talk shows and protesters were heard outside the White House as the president held a Rose Garden event on healthcare earlier Monday.

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“I don’t think we have the option to leave,” Gibbs said. “I think that’s quite clear.”

Gibbs also refused to rebuke McChrystal, the head of U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan who publicly advocated sending more troops to the region, rather than waiting for a decision from Obama.

White House advisers are reportedly split over whether to follow McChrystal’s strategy to secure the country, or pursue a narrower goal of hunting down al Qaeda that involves fewer troops.

Gibbs dismissed the “back-and-forth” over diverging White House views as “the Washington game,” but he also declined to walk back what appeared to be a wrist-slap to McChrystal from Jones.

“Far be it from me to parse the words of a four-star general,” Gibbs said of Jones.

Jones said over the weekend that any advice for the president on a way forward should be handled within the military chain of command. “The president should be presented with options, not just one fait accompli,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

McChrystal made his preference for more troops known during a speech in London last week shortly before he was summoned to meet with Obama in person aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen, Denmark, after the president had unsuccessfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bring the Games to Chicago in 2016.

Gibbs said McChrystal’s assessment is why Obama sent the general to Afghanistan.

McChrystal’s public push for more troops reportedly runs counter to the views of Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration Trump thinks he could easily beat Sanders in 2020 match-up: report Biden marks MLK Day: Americans are 'living through a battle for the soul of this nation' MORE, who is said to prefer the smaller contingent of troops focused on fighting al Qaeda.

The debate over the issue intensified over the weekend as eight U.S. soldiers were killed in a raid. Gibbs said the new strategy would not include more isolated outposts like the one that was attacked.

“Very much the opposite,” Gibbs said. “[It’s] a strategy that is much more focused on population centers.”