This morning on CNN, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL) — one of 11 Republican members to have recently visited the White House and plead with President Bush to change course in Iraq — described the meeting as “unvarnished, about as frank and honest as I have ever been to at the White House.” Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) told Bush at the meeting that the president’s approval rating was at 5 percent in one section of his northern Virginia district.
LaHood further added that Bush was taken aback by the concerns expressed by the congressional delegation. “He listened very carefully. I think he was a little — I don’t know if surprised is the right word, probably maybe sobered,” LaHood said. “The fact is that, I don’t know if he’s gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no holds barred way but he was very sober about it and he listened very intently.” Watch it:
LaHood said the congressional delegation expressed concern about the political impact that Iraq is having on their congressional districts. “People are very war weary and that’s going to be reflected in peoples’ opinions, much stronger in the fall, I believe.”
But when asked how he would react to a “negative report” by Gen. David Petraeus in the fall, LaHood left open the possibility that he would continue to support the current course. “It depends on what Petraeus says. I mean if we are making some progress and we need to move ahead more aggressively — it will — for me, it’s going to depend on what he says in terms of where we’re at and what the way forward looks like in terms of success.”
JOHN ROBERTS: Ray Lahood, your fellow Congressmen Tom Davis said that this was a remarkable, very candid meeting. What words would you use to describe it?
REP. RAY LAHOOD (R) ILLINOIS: Unvarnished, about as frank and honest as I have ever been to at the White House. I’ve been to a lot of meetings, most of them on the war and members really told the president in I think the most unvarnished way that they possibly could that things have got to change, that we’re going to hang with him until September, but we need an honest assessment in September and that peoples’ patience is running very, very, very thin.
ROBERTS: So are you hearing that back from the congressional districts? Is this pressure being put on you by your constituents?
LAHOOD: There were 11 members there and I think each member expressed in a little different way, but the theme was the same — the American people are war fatigued. The American people want to know that there’s a way out. The American people want to know that we’re having success, either the government or our men and women who are doing the hard work. It’s not reflected on the television screens and it’s not reflected in the numbers, particularly as the surge begins. People are very war weary and that’s going to be reflected in peoples’ opinions, much stronger in the fall, I believe.
ROBERTS: Congressman Lahood, what was the president’s reaction to what you told him?
LAHOOD: He listened very carefully. I think he was a little — I don’t know if surprised is the right word, probably maybe sobered. The fact is that, I don’t know if he’s gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no holds barred way but he was very sober about it and he listened very intently. Frankly, he wasn’t defensive. I think he appreciated the fact that people were willing to really open up and give it to him.
ROBERTS: Let me ask you this question, Congressman Lahood. There’s a possibility, of course, that this so-called surge works and General Petraeus reports back at the end of August or the beginning of September that things are getting better. But if he reports back that things are not better, what happens then? Does the bottom drop out of support for the president?
LAHOOD: I would think that the situation becomes very dicey. I think public opinion probably turns even worse than it is, even though some of us believe that it’s about as bad as it gets. But —
ROBERTS: But what about you? Could you continue to support him on the war if Petraeus comes back with a negative report?
LAHOOD: It depends on what Petraeus says. I mean if we are making some progress and we need to move ahead more aggressively — it will — for me, it’s going to depend on what he says in terms of where we’re at and what the way forward looks like in terms of success. The other part of it is people are very frustrated with the Maliki government. And people wonder whether Maliki can really get his act together and really pull off — make this government work. And part of the reason Cheney is over there is to make sure they don’t take two months off which is a great source of irritation for people.
ROBERTS: Congressman Lahood, we thank you very much for your time. We thank you for your candor with us, very much appreciate it sir.