From the White House side, the President (naturally) did most of the talking. Laid out the importance of the decision, how he’s going about making it (“rigorously and deliberately”), and how he sees the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan now (progress in Pakistan, post-election challenges in Afghanistan). Vice President Biden had some brief interventions. General Jones kept his own counsel.
Most of the 18 Members and Senators in the room spoke – both Democrats and Republicans. On the GOP side, Cantor urged the President to follow the advice of his commanders. Boehner said Republicans would back Obama if he pursued a “robust” counter-insurgency strategy and questioned the efficacy of a targeted “counter-terrorist” strategy. McCain warned that the decision should not be made at a “leisurely” pace.
Bristling a bit, Obama assured him it wouldn’t (but he did not say when his review would be finished).
The President also assured Boehner that he didn’t think a pure counter-terrorism strategy would work either, rejecting the “all in/all out” straw man.
Democrats Pelosi, Clyburn and Obey were most skeptical of more troops. Skelton, Hoyer and Feinstein most hawkish. Levin pushed hard for more focus on training Afghan forces. Kerry focused more on Pakistan (Lugar too). After the meeting Reid said that everyone in the room told the President they would support whatever decision he made. Not true. (His staff later acknowledged that Reid misspoke).
No one I talked to believes the President has made up his mind. But it sure sounds like he’s searching for a middle ground – a position that may not please anyone from the start. If that’s the course Obama takes, can he make the case? Likely to be his biggest test yet.