WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it's up to President Barack Obama to persuade reluctant Democrats to fund his Afghanistan troop buildup — his most important foreign policy initiative — because she has no plans to do so herself.
Pelosi's reluctance to lobby for an Afghan surge appropriation reflects the deep divisions within the Democratic Party over Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.
That, coupled with lukewarm public support — in the latest Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, only 51 percent of the respondents said they support the surge — suggests that support for the administration's Afghan policy is brittle, at best.
Facing re-election next year, dozens of Democrats in the House of Representatives already oppose additional war funding, and earlier this year, Pelosi, D-Calif., assured them that they wouldn't have to vote on another emergency war-spending bill.
The issue has put Pelosi in a delicate position. Her congressional constituency includes a sizeable number of Democrats who want the U.S. out of Afghanistan quickly, but she also has a close working relationship with Obama, as well as Democrats who support the president's plan, and hardly wants to anger them or the president.
"What I've told (House) members is give the president room," she said during a meeting with reporters. "Listen to what he has to say. This for members is a vote for conscience and constituents."
Pelosi, however, wouldn't say how she might vote. "The president is going to have to make his case," she said.
The White House is expected to ask Congress early next year for $30 billion to $40 billion to pay for an additional 30,000 to 35,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday approved a $636 billion defense appropriations bill that includes $100 billion for the war in Iraq and for the existing levels of troops in Afghanistan. The bill didn't contain funding for Obama's surge.
In a May vote on war funding, during which 51 Democrats opposed the measure, Pelosi won over reluctant Democrats by asking them: "Will you change your mind and one more time vote for war funding?"
She reportedly told members, "This is the very last time."
Even with the Democratic opposition, that funding bill passed 368 to 60.
On Wednesday, Pelosi defended Obama, but carefully.
"The president is going to make his case. We never liked supplementals (emergency war funding), and my appeal to members (earlier this year) was that we don't need more supplementals," she said.
However, she maintained, "From 2001 till now, there was no plan in Afghanistan. The last four to five years there was clear evidence more needed to be done in Afghanistan."
"Understand this president has been dealt a very bad hand," she added. "There was no plan in Afghanistan for years."
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif, the chairwoman of the antiwar House Progressive Caucus, applauded Pelosi's comments.
"I think it's wise to do it," Woolsey said. "He (Obama) made the decision. I don't think there is a majority of Democrats who support the decision."
Indeed, Obama received more praise for his plan from congressional Republicans, who stood by him Wednesday.
"Republicans support the president's strategy because success is critical to America's national security," Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "We look forward to working with him in continuing to make the case to the American people."
Ironically, such strong support from Republicans is likely to allow the Afghan funding measure to pass, even without support from a large number of Democrats.
(Steven Thomma contributed to this article.)
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