WASHINGTON -- As a backlash continued Friday against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's remarks that the war in Iraq is "lost," he dropped that term and called for a responsible ending to the war.
"I said it yesterday; I say it again. The longer we continue down the president's path, the further we will be from responsibly ending this war," Reid said in a Senate speech.
He said Democrats "take a back seat to no one in supporting our troops, and we will never abandon our troops in a time of war."
Reid said he needed to respond to "the White House spin machine that's been working overtime in an effort to defend its failed policies."
In Friday's speech, Reid did not back off his criticism of President Bush's Iraq strategy. But he avoided repeating the phrase that drew a sharp reaction.
The White House was not satisfied.
"Yesterday, Senator Reid said the war 'is lost.' Today, Senator Reid has tried to back off from that egregious comment using smoke and mirrors," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino.
"It's impossible to figure out where the Democrats stand, and there's no telling what Senator Reid will say tomorrow," Perino said.
An independent Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, also criticized Reid's remarks.
"Senator Reid's statement is not based on military facts on the ground in Iraq and does not advance our cause there," said Lieberman, who is a strong supporter of the war. Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Reid and Lieberman agree on most issues.
"But it is no secret that Senator Reid disagrees with Senator Lieberman's position on Iraq, which is supportive of the Bush administration's failed policy, Summers said.
A group of military veterans in Nevada, who are Democrats, rallied support for Reid on Friday.
"It is very clear we are not able to have an effect on (Iraq's) civil war," said Elliot Anderson, chairman of the Veterans and Military Families Caucus.
"America is not in a position to get these two groups (Sunnis and Shiites) to stop fighting each other, so in that regard it is lost," Anderson said.
Republicans and others who have reacted strongly to Reid's remarks "keep ignoring reality," Anderson said. "America cannot fix the problems in Iraq, and they refuse to see that."
Reid's office announced Friday he will deliver an Iraq speech Monday before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan think tank.
The increasingly hostile exchanges between Reid and the White House come as negotiations are set to take place on Capitol Hill next week over a $123 billion funding bill for troops
After meeting with Reid and other Democratic leaders on Wednesday, Bush continued to insist he will veto the bill unless troop withdrawal dates are dropped.
Reid's blunt language once again drew strong reactions from his political foes, much as it did in May 2005 when he called Bush a "loser" before Nevada high school students.