Washington Congress failed to override President Bush's veto of legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on Wednesday, a defeat for anti-war Democrats that triggered immediate talks on a new measure to fund the conflict.
The House vote was 222-203, 62 shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. With few exceptions, Republicans stood fast with Bush in the wartime clash. The original vote on the bill was 218-208.
"I'm confident we can reach agreement," the president said moments after the vote as he sat down at the White House with leaders of the Democratic-controlled Congress, who have vowed repeatedly to force him to change his war policy.
Democrats flashed defiance, yet signaled they were ready to make significant concessions such as jettisoning the troop withdrawal timetable and cutting some of the domestic funds that Bush opposes.
In turn, the president defended his decision to send more troops to Iraq. "The question is, Who ought to make that decision?" Bush said in answer to a question after a speech. "The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear - I'm the commander guy."
There was early talk in both parties of setting goals for the government of Iraq to meet as it strives to develop a self-defending, democratic society, but no agreement on what form they should take, or on how - or whether - to enforce them.
"Make no mistake, Democrats are committed to ending this war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said on a day of carefully scripted political drama at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. "We hope to do so in unison with the president of the United States."
At the same time, Republicans who have helped Bush sustain his policy quickly signaled a new impatience with a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 U.S. troops.
"Obviously the president would prefer a straight funding bill, no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports. Many of us on both sides of the aisle don't agree with that," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. She expressed interest in a proposal to cut reconstruction aid to Iraq if the Baghdad government does not live up to its promises.
Collins' sentiment was echoed by several House Republicans, who said that while they had cast their votes to sustain the veto, they wanted to signal impatience with a war that is unpopular with the public, and also with the administration's policy.