For GOP, ‘wait-and-see’ position on Afghan plan

Republicans tried to make the case after Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) announced his retirement last week that it was a precursor to a mass Democratic exodus.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that GOP lawmakers are in a “wait-and-see position” until White House officials explain the decision to move U.S. troops out of Afghanistan 18 months after surging forces in the region.

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“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and answered by members of the administration, to ensure in our own minds that the plan that the president outlined does, in fact, have a reasonable chance at success,” he said.

They want to know how the exit date will work, what the White House wants to accomplish in the next 18 months and when troops will leave the field before House Republicans “come out in full support of the president’s plan,” Boehner added.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has raised major concerns about the timetables for withdrawal, pressing top administration officials on the issue during an Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Members of the House GOP conference spent a significant portion of their weekly closed-door meeting discussing the speech the president delivered Tuesday night at West Point Military Academy.

For the most part, rank-and-file lawmakers headed out of that meeting supporting Obama’s intention to surge the U.S. presence in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops but had problems with setting an exit date.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said “many House Republicans have serious concerns about calls for a timeline, or benchmarks.”

Another item of concern is an idea posed by liberal lawmakers to impose a war surtax to pay for the cost of the troop surge.

That idea is a non-starter for members of the minority party who believe that “raising taxes in the middle of a weak economy is the prescription for insanity,” Boehner said.

House Republicans have often opposed attempts to place restrictions on commanders in the field and have left open the possibility of opposing a yet-to-be-seen funding bill for the surge effort.

With disgruntled anti-war Democrats opposed to the president’s new strategy, the 177-member GOP minority party may prove to be a crucial bloc of support the president needs when he sends his formal funding request to Congress.

Asked for their reactions to the surge announcement, top-ranking anti-war Democrats Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Rep. George Miller (Calif.) gave non-supportive responses.

Miller, top deputy to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), raised his eyebrows in disapproval. While surrounded in an elevator with GOP lawmakers, Schakowsky only said that Obama appeared “very presidential,” but refrained from commenting on his plan.

Schakowsky voted against the House war supplemental bill earlier this year, but amid intense whipping by Democratic leaders, she voted for the House-Senate conference measure in June.

That spending bill was opposed by most House Republicans because it included funds for the International Monetary Fund.

Pence last year helped round up 132 House Republican “present” votes on an Iraq and Afghanistan war-funding bill to protest the way in which Democrats brought that particular measure to the floor. The measure failed, 141-149.

Some House Republicans said they were not impressed by Obama’s speech on Tuesday night.

“It was a terrible speech. Where was the passion to win? The speech was not very specific, it was very general and that’s why people are waiting to hear from others what the benchmarks are going to be,” said GOP Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) refrained from defending the president’s strategy but focused his attack on Republican concerns.

“[The president] gave the best speech he could under these circumstances and Republicans are looking for reasons to deny him success. I find it so political,” Waxman told The Hill on Wednesday.