House Begins Debate on Iraq War Resolution
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KWAME HOLMAN: As a light snow fell on the nation’s capital, the House of Representatives launched the most extensive debate on the Iraq war since Congress first authorized President Bush to use force against Iraq in the fall of 2002.
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), Massachusetts: Any member of this House who’s been home recently knows that the questions are increasing, the concern is growing, and the patience is running out.
KWAME HOLMAN: The majority Democrats, many of whom point to the November elections as a mandate to change the course of the war, set aside these next three days to give members five minutes each to speak their minds.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), Indiana: You know, it’s a snow day. Back in Indiana today, Mr. Speaker — and my kids are even home watching this on TV. I give my kids some pretty basic advice sometimes. And one of the pieces of advice I give my kids, when they’re facing challenges, I say to them, “You know, people don’t like losers, but they like quitters even less.”
KWAME HOLMAN: The debate centers around the Democrats’ nonbinding resolution, which expresses two points: that Congress will continue to support and protect U.S. troops in Iraq; but that Congress disapproves of the president’s decision to send more troops.
The vote is scheduled for Friday, and the resolution is expected to pass. However, the division between the two parties on what to do next in Iraq was illustrated during early remarks from the party’s top leaders.
Party leaders open debate
First, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: My colleagues, in a few weeks, the war in Iraq will enter its fifth year, causing thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of casualties, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, and damaging the standing of the United States in the international community. And there is no end in sight.
The American people have lost faith in President Bush's course of action in Iraq, and they are demanding a new direction. President Bush's escalation proposal will not make America safer, will not make our military stronger, and will not make the region more stable. And it will not have my support.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republican leader John Boehner countered that winning the war in Iraq is the only way to win the war against global terrorism.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: The battle in Iraq is about more than what happens there. This is one part of a much larger fight, a global fight against Islamic terrorists who have waged war on the United States and her allies.
This is not a question of fighting for land, or for treasure, or for glory. We are fighting to rid the world of a radical and dangerous ideology. We are fighting to preserve and defend our sacred way of life.
We are fighting to build a safer and more secure America, one where families can raise their children without the fear of terrorist attacks. Will we do what it takes to stand and fight for the future of our kids and theirs? Will we commit to defending the freedoms and liberties that we all cherish? Or will we retreat and leave the fight for another generation?
KWAME HOLMAN: Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos responded.
REP. TOM LANTOS (D), California: The distinguished Republican leader recited, movingly and accurately, terrorists outrages across the globe. Those terrorist outrages make the passage of our resolution all the more urgent and all the more imperative.
We are not fighting terrorism in Iraq. We are attempting to referee a religiously based civil war which saps our strength and destroys our fabric as a society.
It is utterly unrealistic and grossly unfair to expect soldiers straight out of Iowa, or Alabama, or California to be able to differentiate between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites, much less to be able to tell at a glance which of these groups are with us and which are against us.
But that is exactly what we are asking them to do. And we are asking them to do it in an urban terrorist setting and to do it without any linguistic or cultural background.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans were denied the chance to offer an alternative to the Democrats' resolution. They resorted to attacking it as a needlessly symbolic message that would embolden America's enemies.
REP. PETE SESSIONS (R), Texas: The bottom line is, is what this resolution that is nonbinding is all about is to politically neuter the president of the United States and, I believe, our forces and our mission in Iraq.
REP. DAVID DREIER (R), California: Their proposal is, in fact, meaningless as legislation, and it is disastrous as a policy. Mr. Speaker, it is an admission of defeat, and it is a vote of no confidence in our troops.
KWAME HOLMAN: Georgia Republican Jack Kingston wondered why Democrats were pushing a nonbinding resolution if they were so determined to force a change in Iraq.
REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), Georgia: So if the situation in Iraq is so hopeless and unwinnable, why are we messing around with nonbinding resolutions? If the war is a lost cause, and there's no longer an American interest, why don't we just go ahead and get out of there now? It's not worth another life or another dime.
Supporting the resolution
KWAME HOLMAN: While the resolution carries no force of law, Democrats hope its passage will force the administration to rethink its Iraq policy. New York Democrat Charles Rangel, one of many combat veterans who spoke today, put this week's debate in terms of life and death.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), New York: This great country and this great Constitution has given you the right, right in your hand, to determine who lives and who dies. You can't make a mistake in supporting this resolution.
It's not going to hurt our beloved warriors; it's going to help our country. It's going to help them, and it's going to make us proud one day to be able to say when asked, "What did you do when this was going on in the world and your Congress was asked?" And you would be able to say, "There was a resolution. It may not have been a profile in courage, but I supported it, and I'm proud that I did."
The 'wrong message'
KWAME HOLMAN: But California Republican Duncan Hunter, a veteran himself, said Rangel and his Democratic colleagues should realize that it's too late to prevent the new troop deployment in Iraq.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: We're not stopping anything with this resolution. In fact, the Big Red One is already moving its first brigade toward Iraq. The 82nd Airborne, America's all-American division, is already in Iraq. In fact, they have -- the second brigade is already in their sector in Baghdad.
As a matter of fact, in the Baghdad plan, in which this reinforcements are serving, in all nine sectors now has Americans and Iraqi forces in place and operating. So you're not stopping anything. You're simply sending a message. And it's the wrong message.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, the continued turmoil in Baghdad, the rising number of casualties, and anxiety over the White House strategy could cause a few dozen Republicans to break ranks with their party and support the Democrats' resolution. Several of them are expected to speak on the House floor tomorrow.