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Bush consults U.S Republican lawmakers Thursday as he readies likely veto fight with Democrats over Iraq

President George W. Bush sought to shore up the Republican minority in the U.S. Congress for a showdown with Democrats over Iraq, surrounding himself with Republican allies at the White House Thursday to repeat his threat to veto anti-war legislation.

"We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded," Bush said, "and we got commanders making tough decisions on the ground, we expect there to be no strings on our commanders."

"We expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people's money," he said.

Bush's brief statement came within moments of a roll call vote in the Senate on legislation ordering combat troops home from Iraq. Bush's remarks followed an unusual gathering to which all Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives were invited - the first time this has happened, the White House said.

In a letter to Bush, the House leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid countered: "This Congress is taking the responsible course and responding to needs that have been ignored by your administration and the prior Congress."

Perino said the president respects the role of Congress - and Congress should respect his.

"I think the founders of our nation had great foresight in realizing that it would be better to have one commander in chief managing a war, rather than 535 generals on Capitol Hill trying to do the same thing," Perino said. "They're mandating failure here."

The Senate was expected on Thursday to pass a $122 billion (EUR91.3 billion) bill that would require Bush to start bringing home an unspecified number of troops within four months, with a nonbinding goal of ceasing combat operations as of March 31, 2008.

The final vote on the bill comes after the Senate agreed 50-48 to uphold the withdrawal language, and the House passed similar legislation. The House last week approved a more sweeping measure, including a mandatory withdrawal deadline for all combat troops before September 2008.

The two sides still need to settle their differences and approve a final conference bill. But Democrats said the recent votes guaranteed the president would be handed a measure imposing some sort of timetable on Iraq.

"This war without end has gone on far too long and we're here to end it," Pelosi said.

Reid said the ball was now in the president's court.

"The Senate and the House have held together and done what we've done," he told reporters. "It's now in his corner to do what he wants to do."

The legislation is the Senate's first, bold challenge of Bush's war policies since Democrats took control of Congress in January. With Senate rules allowing the minority party to insist on 60 votes to pass any bill and Democrats holding only a narrow majority, Reid had been unable to push through resolutions critical of the war.

This latest proposal was able to get through because Republicans said they did not want to block an appropriations bill needed for the war.

"I think the sooner we can get this bill ... down to the president for veto, we can get serious about passing a bill that will get money to the troops," said Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bush used a speech at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting Wednesday to deliver his latest in a series of veto threats on the measure. Confident Democrats did not have the two-thirds majority votes to override his veto, Bush said Democrats would be the ones to blame if troops go without funding.

"If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible," he said.

But Pelosi and Reid did not flinch.

"On this very important matter, I would extend a hand of friendship to the president, just to say to him, 'Calm down with the threats,"' she said. "There's a new Congress in town. We accept your constitutional role. We want you to accept ours."

Democrats acknowledge they do not have enough support in Congress to override Bush's veto, but say they will continue to ratchet up the pressure until he changes course.

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