Maine delegation: No on Iraq; open to domestic items

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AUGUSTA – President Bush insisted in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that his plan for sending more troops offers the best chance of success in Iraq, but Maine’s congressional delegation still stood opposed.

Members found promise elsewhere in the president’s remarks.

Second Congressional District Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from East Millinocket, said he appreciated Bush’s willingness to raise issues closer to home.

“Tonight, the president stressed the need to address pressing domestic issues like the promotion of health care coverage for the uninsured, reforming immigration, and improving education. … I found the president’s proposals for energy independence particularly positive,” Michaud said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with him and colleagues on both sides of the aisle on alternative fuel development and what we can do together to tackle the issue of global warming,” the congressman said.

But Michaud charged that the foreign policy component of the speech fell short.

“While all of the issues mentioned by the president tonight clearly deserve increased attention, I was disappointed to hear nothing new on Iraq,” Michaud said.

In that, he was not alone.

‘Pre-eminent issue’

“With hundreds of thousands of brave American troops courageously serving overseas, the American people overwhelmingly consider the war in Iraq to be the pre-eminent issue facing our nation,” Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe said.

“While the President rightly called on the Iraqi people to set aside sectarian interests in the name of national unity and to take responsibility for their future, I continue to believe that adding additional troops does not address the root causes of violence in Iraq.

“Rather, now is the time for a significant new strategy centered on a diplomatic effort and political solution led by the Iraqi government to achieve national reconciliation. The president must bring the same bipartisan approach to our policy in Iraq that he has pledged to employ on domestic issues,” Snowe said in a statement.

First District Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat from Portland, welcomed Bush’s interest in bipartisan cooperation but sought to draw a line of contrast between the new Democratic majorities in Congress and “the previous majority.”

“As next steps, Congress and the president should tackle issues that were ignored for the past six years,” Allen said, pointing specifically to universal health care coverage and energy.

On Iraq, Allen reaffirmed his stance with the critics.

‘Bring troops home’

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“The president’s proposal to escalate the war in Iraq is wrong and should be rejected,” Allen said in a statement. “The more important issue, however, is what elected officials are doing to end the war. I believe Congress should act to bring American troops home from Iraq by the end of 2007 and force Iraqis to take responsibility for their security.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins also credited Bush for outlining a domestic policy agenda but wasted no time in declaring there were ways to improve it.

“I strongly share the president’s goal of reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and I am pleased that the president is calling for an increase in automobile fuel economy standards,” Collins said in a statement. “His proposal does not, however, go nearly far enough.”

She said she looked forward to hearing more about the president’s health care initiative and said she applauded a renewed call for “direct humanitarian aid to fund the global fight against HIV/AIDS.”

On Iraq, the divide was stark.

“I remain steadfastly opposed to an overall increase in American troops in Baghdad. … Ultimately, resolving the sectarian violence requires a political, not a military, solution,” Collins said.

Snowe and Collins are on a list of 17 senators being targeted Wednesday by opponents of President Bush’s latest troop deployment plans in Iraq.

A national campaign known as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq said it would respond to Bush’s State of the Union address by staging events calling on lawmakers to oppose the president’s plan and thanking those who do.

Noon events promoted by the national group are scheduled in Augusta at the Muskie Federal Building and in Portland at One City Center.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was slated to begin debate Wednesday. Snowe and Collins have helped promote separate resolutions voicing disapproval of Bush’s plan.

Amid the various criticisms, delegation members took pains to pledge to work together where possible.

“We may have a divided government, but the president and Congress have the opportunity to demonstrate we aren’t divided on our commitment to achieve the solutions Americans rightly expect and deserve,” Snowe said. “What it will require is that we vigorously pursue common ground in addressing our nation’s most pressing challenges,” Snowe said.

AP-ES-01-23-07 2305EST

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