Tuesday, February 13, 2007

House members joust over Iraq war policy


House members fiercely debated Iraq war policy Tuesday in an emotional and historic floor faceoff over a conflict that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) lambasted as a U.S. commitment with "no end in sight."

The confluence of arguments came as the war nears the four-year point with over 3,100 American deaths, billions spent and lawmakers grappling what position to take on President Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 troops into battle.

"The American people have lost faith in President Bush's course of action in Iraq and they are demanding a new direction," said Pelosi, a California Democrat who became the first female House speaker after her party took control of both the House and Senate in the fall elections.

A resolution putting the House on record as against Bush's expansion of troop strength was expected to be approved by week's end. It was nonbinding, but nevertheless unmistakable in its message. "No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq," Pelosi declared.

Countered White House press secretary Tony Snow: "Members of the House and members of the Senate have the freedom to go ahead and write their resolutions, and do what they want with them. The one thing we do expect is, we do expect those who say they're going to support the troops, to support them."

Republicans, now the minority party on the Hill for the time in 12 years, issued impassioned warnings of the consequences of undermining the president's policies in Iraq. "We will embolden terrorists in every corner in the world. We will give Iran free access to the Middle East," said Republican leader John Boehner (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio. "And who doesn't believe the terrorists will just follow our troops home?"

Boehner teared up before reporters as he listened to Rep. Sam Johnson (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, describe being a prisoner of war in Vietnam and learning of U.S. protests back home.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting record), D-Md., insisted that they had no intention of impeding the mission of those in Iraq. "There will be no defunding of troops in the field. There will be no defunding which will cause any risk to the troops," he told a news conference.

The House rejected, on a 227-197 vote, a Republican procedural attempt to force a vote on a proposal that would have barred Congress from cutting off funding for American troops in harm's way.

Democrats expressed confidence the measure would prevail and said they would attempt to use it as the opening move in a campaign to pressure Bush to change course and end U.S. military involvement in the war. More than 3,100 U.S. troops have died in nearly four years of fighting.

Democrats called on several freshmen who served in the military to make their argument against further commitments in Iraq.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., a captain in the Army 82nd Airborne, said that "three years after I left Iraq, Americans are still running convoys up and down Ambush Alley and securing Iraqi street corners."

But Rep. David Dreier (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., stressed that "we go to war to win, we go to war with a mission." He said "we dishonor the lives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice if we in fact abandon that mission. .... We have a duty to pursue nothing less than victory."

Republicans conceded that the measure was headed for approval and said a few dozen members of the GOP were likely to break ranks and vote for it.

It was the first debate about the war in either house of Congress since November's midterm elections, when public opposition to the conflict helped power Democrats to control of the House and Senate.

Bush's decision last month to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to help stop sectarian violence has quickly become a flashpoint for critics of the war in Congress. There are currently about 141,000 American troops in Iraq and 27,000 in Afghanistan.

The nonbinding measure states simply that the House "will continue to support and protect" troops serving in Iraq but that it "disapproves" of the troop buildup.

While such legislation can neither force Bush's hand nor bring the war to a close, the vote could be a politically embarrassing rejection of his Iraq policy and help Democrats reassert congressional oversight of the war.

Each of the House's 435 members and five delegates were being allotted five minutes to speak on the issue. Democratic leaders said Monday they planned to restrict members to a single vote by week's end, barring any amendments or a GOP alternative — a tack Republican leaders decried as unfair.

"After promising to make this Congress the most open and honest in history, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi has effectively shut out both Republicans and Democrats from substantively debating the most important issue of our time," said Rep. John Shadegg (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz.

Pelosi and other Democrats said restricting debate to one measure will force members to go on record on the war without hiding behind political ploys.

This week's debate will be in sharp contrast to the one in 2002, which authorized Bush to use force if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. That debate resulted in solid margins of support from Republicans and Democrats.

In October 2002, just over half of the public — 52 percent — approved of Bush's handling of Iraq in Gallup polling. But Bush now faces a new political landscape. More than 3,100 U.S. troops have died and the justification for the invasion has been discredited with a majority of the public.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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