McConnell deflects questions on Bush book's revelation

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 10, 2010 at 6:46 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 11 at 12:52 AM

   LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is avoiding questions about a 2006 Oval Office meeting described in a new memoir by former President George W. Bush. In the book "Decision Points," Bush writes that McConnell, in a private meeting, suggested that Bush bring some troops home from Iraq before the 2006 midterm elections.

Asked on Wednesday if he had suggested that Bush bring troops home for political gain, McConnell deflected the question several times. "You know I've been a strong supporter of President Bush," McConnell said to reporters, "I was the one who authored the proposal to fund the surge. I'm proud of my record on Iraq and proud of his record.  It's turned out well."

"What's your recollection of that meeting?" WHAS11 pressed McConnell.

"I'm proud of what I've done to support the troops in Iraq," McConnell said, "we provided the funding for the surge.  It's been successful.  President Obama's actually continued the policy and we can all feel good that the surge was a good idea.  It was very controversial at the time.  I led the charge through a Democratic Senate to provide the funding for it.  And I think we can all have a good feeling that it will work out well."

 

"(McConnell) had asked to see me alone." Bush writes in his memoir. "Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble.

"Mr. President," he said, "your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress."

"Well Mitch," Bush quotes himself,  "What do you want me to do about it?"

"Mr. President," he said, "bring some troops home from Iraq."

The account flies in the face of McConnell's public statements in 2006.  At the time, as the New York Times reported a possible plan to cut combat brigades in Iraq, McConnell appeared on ABC's This Week and insisted that generals on the ground and not lawmakers should make that call.

"Not the congress trying to act like armchair generals dictating every nuance of the policy in Iraq," McConnell said at the time.

I made it clear -- Bush writes -- I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.
What I did not tell him was that I was seriously considering the opposite of his recommendation.

"The opposite" is the troop surge that McConnell eventually championed in the Senate.

"It required additional funding of a fairly significant amount," McConnell said after speaking to a Veterans luncheon at Audubon Country Club, "I was the minority leader of the Senate.  I didn't have a majority. It was a tough sell.  We got the funds for the troops. The surge which was very controversial, worked and I think President Obama would be the first one to say that the policy has worked out rather well.

"He has continued the agreement that was entered into by President Bush at the end of his term.  We're now down to 50,000 troops. They're basically in the barracks and not exposed to hostile fire. And Iraq is a democracy, not a perfect democracy. but a democracy."

Bush includes one other detail as a postscript to McConnell's alleged original recommendation.

"(McConnell) graciously later admitted to me that he had been wrong to suggest a withdrawal."

As Bush also notes, Mcconnell also fought against arbitrary deadlines in Iraq. 

While McConnell says "it's clear that the surge worked,"  it is also clear that he wants to be judged on his public record, and not on private meetings with the president. 

Asked if he was upset that Bush disclosed the private meeting, McConnell again declined. "Well as I just said, I led the surge effort in the Senate," McConnell said.

McConnell instead referred to a statement from his office that he "does not comment on any advice he may have given the President on improving his political standing."  

As a result, McConnell is neither confirming or denying Bush's account.

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