"The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources," Pelosi, head of the Democratic-led House, told ABC's "Good Morning America. "That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way."
|U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacts to a question during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, January 19, 2007|
Saying Democrats were waging a "sound-bite war," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino fired back: "Questioning the president's motivations and suggesting that he for some political reason is rushing troops into harm's way is not appropriate, it is not correct and it is unfortunate."
The bitter exchange marked an escalation in the political fight over Bush's plan, unveiled last week to a sceptical public, to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq as part of a reworked war strategy.
Currently about 130,000 U.S. troops are there.
Newly empowered congressional Democrats pushing for a phased withdrawal from Iraq were gathering support even from within Bush's own Republican ranks for a resolution opposing the troop increase. The administration was scrambling to limit Republican defections.
"The White House has been working very aggressively, twisting arms, doing what they need to do to try to keep people away from our resolution, or any resolution," Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican co-sponsor of the Senate resolution, said in an interview taped for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.
Bush, faced with opinion polls showing Americans strongly opposed to a troop increase, is expected to defend his Iraq plan in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
Pelosi, a California liberal who earlier this month became the first woman to lead the House, insisted on Friday that Democrats would never deny funding to U.S. forces in wartime.
"But we will hold the president accountable," she said. "He has to answer for his war. He has dug a hole so deep he can't even see the light on this ... It's a historic blunder."
Asked whether she was accusing Bush of manipulating the timing of the new deployment to avoid congressional action, Pelosi hedged slightly on her initial charge. "I would certainly hope he didn't manipulate the timing of sending the troops in. I think he could have told us about it sooner."
The White House struck back at Pelosi for suggesting Bush had political motives for moving quickly on the troop increase. "Those particular comments were poisonous," Perino said.
"Speaker Pelosi was arguing in essence that the president is putting young men and women in harm's way for tactical political reasons," she said. Perino said Bush "is sending the troops to Iraq quickly because he wants to win."
Pelosi and Bush had traded insults during the election campaign that ended with Democrats winning control of Congress on November 7. Bush and Democratic leaders had pledged cooperation, but partisan fighting has since reignited.
The battle over Iraq policy was about to get more complicated in the Senate where Virginia Republican John Warner, Maine Republican Susan Collins and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson said they would unveil on Monday an alternative nonbinding resolution on the troop increase. They gave no details.