The House Holds Heated Floor Debate on U.S. Troops’ Withdrawal from Iraq
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KWAME HOLMAN: For the first time since they authorized the
use of force in October 2002, members of the House of Representatives launched
into a full day of debate on the Iraq war, tussling over what the
military campaign has achieved so far and what needs to be done before American
troops can return home.
REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), Florida:
Morale is high, and they are confident in the success in this mission.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), Texas: There’s a better way to honor our
troops than sending more of them off to be killed.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats repeatedly attacked Republican
leaders for tying the debate to a single, non-binding resolution which praises
the troops but also links Iraq
to the war on terror and rejects setting an arbitrary date for troop
withdrawal. Ike Skelton of Missouri
is the Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat.
REP. IKE SKELTON (D), Missouri: I take a back seat to no one
in supporting our American military and their families, no one. But before us
is a resolution that is not the fulfillment of a promise that we were given. We
were told we would be able to have a debate on Iraq; that’s not the case.
KWAME HOLMAN: North Carolina Republican Walter Jones agreed
and had his hands tied together to demonstrate that members who wanted simply
to discuss a timetable for withdrawal were being shackled by the resolution.
REP. WALTER JONES (R), North Carolina: We’re going to have a
resolution that is hollow, no meaning, except to say, “Thank you,”
which we do that every day. There’s nothing wrong to say, “Thank
you,” but why don’t we have some meat? Why don’t we have some policy
issues in this debate so that we can meet our constitutional responsibilities?
KWAME HOLMAN: However, many Republicans were anxious tocapitalize on the recent good news in Iraq: the formation of the newgovernment's cabinet, and the killing of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan said the U.S. must not waste that momentum.
REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), Chair, Intelligence Committee: Weknow that al-Qaida wants to attack us again in our homeland. That's why it'simportant to stay on the offensive, attacking them where they are, and makingsure that they do not have a safe haven to plan, to train, and to develop theresources to attack us again.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today's debate had the strong endorsement ofMajority Leader John Boehner, who's been pushing the idea since assuming hispost in January.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Majority Leader: You know,what do we have to fear in allowing the House to work its will? That's whatpeople get elected to do here.
KWAME HOLMAN: But a memo Boehner sent to his colleagues thisweek indicated the leader thought Republicans could take political advantage ofthe debate. He urged them "to clarify just how wrong the Democrats' weakapproach is and how dangerous their implementation would be to the nationalsecurity interests of the United States."
A plan of attack
KWAME HOLMAN: New Mexico'sHeather Wilson was on message this afternoon, speaking about the terrorists'mindset.
REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), New Mexico: They won't stop if we ignorethem, so that is the choice we face as a nation and why this debate today is soimportant. It is a choice between resolve and retreat. And, for me and myfamily, I choose resolve.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan followed.
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), Michigan:They'll behead you; they'll shoot you; they'll blow you up. They don't care. Andto have the talk of rhetoric, because the electricity isn't where it is, let'scome home in defeat. Because the oil isn't going exactly the way we'd like it,let's come home in defeat. That's no standard for victory.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Connecticut Democrat John Larson, facingthe Republican side of the aisle, voiced his outrage at the Republican plan ofattack.
REP. JOHN LARSON (D), Connecticut: Here we are in a racebetween cooperation and catastrophe, and you guys bring to the floor apolitical document, not designed for a new direction or to bring the countrytogether to discuss this issue the way it should be, but instead as talkingpoints outlined by Karl Rove in New Hampshire, sandwiched in between apresident's photo-op and a picnic this evening.
Americans are outraged that we don't have a citizenry andmembers here who are willing to stand up and have accountability.
Finding a way out
KWAME HOLMAN: IllinoisDemocrat Rahm Emanuel argued the facts cannot be hidden from the Americanpeople.
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: The Republican Congress sat andwatched the administration make mistake after mistake and mistake. You cannotspin your way out of a fact that's been present in the country's mind for 3 1/2years, $480 billion, 2,500 lives, and over 18,000 fellow citizens wounded.
KWAME HOLMAN: Emanuel was a political aide to PresidentClinton and now sets strategy for his House colleagues heading into the fallelections.
REP. RAHM EMANUEL: This is an attempt to, as the RepublicanParty leadership may know, try to embarrass Democrats, and I think that thatwill flip back on them, because that's the one thing the American people don'twant.
KWAME HOLMAN: Even some Republicans shared that view,including 12-year House veteran Ray LaHood, also of Illinois, a confidante of Speaker DennisHastert.
REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), Illinois: My point is, when you have acountry that's war-weary, and you have politicians that are low in the pollsbecause of the war, I don't see the real advantage in spending eight, or 10, or12 hours talking about this, particularly given that half the time will be bypeople who are opposed to the war.
The past vs. the present
KWAME HOLMAN: And Democrats made their voices heard, manyharking back to the original war debate four years ago, when 40 percent of themvoted for the president's resolution of force.
That included Pennsylvania'sJohn Murtha, a decorated war hero who has become the most prominent Democrat tocall for an immediate redeployment of U.S.forces, acknowledging his earlier vote was a mistake and likening the Iraq situation to Vietnam.
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), Pennsylvania:I believed in the Vietnam War. I thought we were fighting communism. But LyndonJohnson said they had an election. One month after I come out of Vietnam,"Everything's going to be all right."
You know how many people we lost from 1967 until we pulledout? Thirty-seven thousand. Rhetoric does not answer the problem; only theIraqis can solve the problem in Iraq.They're fighting with each other, and our troops are caught in between, and Isay it's time to redeploy and be ready.
KWAME HOLMAN: ConnecticutRepublican Christopher Shays, in the middle of a difficult re-election campaignbecause he supported the war, maintained leaving would be a mistake.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), Connecticut: When I am asked byindividual Iraqis what is their biggest concern, when I ask them that, it isnot the bombings, the lack of electricity, or anything else, other than this: Itis, and I quote -- this is what they tell me continually -- "That you willleave us, that you will leave us before we can grab hold of democracy anddefend ourselves." I pray we will not let them down.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nonetheless, Congressman LaHood, who presidedover much of today's debate, warned the more Republicans talk about the war,the greater the risk they'll suffer at the polls in November.
REP. RAY LAHOOD: But there's no question, in my home stateof Illinois, we have sort of the poster candidate for the antiwar movement inthe district that's being vacated by Henry Hyde. We have Tammy Duckworth.
She is a double-amputee through the Iraq war and now isagainst, you know, us having gone there. And, you know, this kind of debate fora day long may very well play into the kind of message that she's trying to putforth in her congressional district. So I hope we don't give ammunition, toomuch ammunition to those who want to run on the issue of the war.
KWAME HOLMAN: With several hours of debate on the resolutionstill before them, the House was expected to vote on it late tonight ortomorrow.