White House denies Afghanistan decision; senators are split

Senate Democrats and Republicans split along party lines on Tuesday amid reports — denied by the White House — that President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE has made a final decision on a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Republican Senate leaders blasted reports from both CBS News and The Associated Press that Obama is leaning toward recommending slightly fewer than the 40,000 troops said to be requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

But Democrats pointed to Obama’s careful deliberation, saying they sense the decision is well-researched.

Obama is scheduled to meet with his national security team on Wednesday to discuss strategies for moving forward in Afghanistan — the eighth such meeting this year.

“If you have a military strategy, it seems to me you need a military force compatible with attaining that strategy,” said GOP Policy Chairman and Armed Services Committee member John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (S.D.). “If you have military commanders in the field and you undercut what they need, you have the possibility to put success at risk.”

But Democrat Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (R.I.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, embraced Tuesday’s reports.

“There has been very careful deliberation about this,” Reed told The Hill. “I have to think [Obama] looked at everything.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rebuffed the CBS and AP stories, saying that a final decision on Afghanistan is still weeks away.

“I don’t know that it’s annoying as much as it is generally amusing to watch somebody or some group of people decide they know what only the president knows,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs added that anyone telling the press that the president has made a decision “doesn’t have, in all honesty, the slightest idea what they’re talking about.”

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones also pushed back, saying late Monday night that all press reports that say Obama has made a decision, or almost made a decision, are false.

Amid the uncertainty, Reed and other Democrats were wary in their responses, but struck a common theme: Whatever Obama’s decision, it should be comprehensive and it should include Congress.

“The question of troops is always the first factor looked at, but it’s only one factor,” said Reed. “There are lots of other factors, including the state of the government there.”

“I’m not locked into discussing troop levels, I’m locked on discussing strategy,” added Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.). “Are we going to be pursuing counterterrorism in the rural areas and counterinsurgency in the cities? You have to look at things like that in the context of troop levels.”
Republican leaders said much the same, urging Obama to explain his decision in front of them.

“I hope he makes it soon, because there’s 68,000 men and women at risk right now,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (Tenn.). “And he needs to come to Congress and explain it.”

Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he believes Obama may be forced to deploy the troops over a yearlong period — as Tuesday’s reports suggested — because only about 15,000 troops are currently available.

The president flew to Fort Hood, Texas, on Tuesday to meet with the families of those killed during last week’s shooting. Gibbs said that when Obama makes his decision, he will “take the time to explain that decision and his reasoning to the American people.”

Gibbs said there has been no decision made on how Obama will do that.