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House Rebukes President Bush’s Iraq War Strategy

February 16, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: The House of Representatives takes an official position against increasing the number of troops in Iraq. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: Just before noon today, California Democrat George Miller, a 30-year veteran of the House, called on President Bush to take note of the historic action about to be undertaken by the chamber.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), California: When we pass this bipartisan resolution, the president should pause, because, at that moment, the president will not have the support of the United States House of Representatives, and at that moment the president will also not have the support of the people of the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Democrat-written resolution was approved late this afternoon after four days of often passionate debate. It says, “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.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: We owe our troops a course of action in Iraq that is worthy of their sacrifice. Today, we set the stage for a new direction on Iraq by passing a resolution, with fewer than 100 words, which supports our troops and disapproves of the president’s escalation proposal. Instead, Democrats have proposed a different course of action to the president.

KWAME HOLMAN: After 45 hours of debate and speeches from almost 400 members, the final vote was 246 to 182. Democrats got help from 17 Republicans who crossed the aisle to support the resolution.

One was staunch conservative Walter Jones of North Carolina. Four years ago, Jones led the effort to change the name of French fries sold in the Capitol to “Freedom Fries,” in response to the French government’s opposition to the U.S. war effort.

But soon after, Jones said he began to regret his vote for the war. He attended a funeral in late 2003 for Marine Sergeant Michael Bitz, killed in Nasiriyah during the initial invasion, leaving a widow and three young children.

REP. WALTER JONES (R), North Carolina: A sergeant who left a wife and three children, twins that were born two weeks after he was deployed. He never saw them. And at the funeral, the wife read the last letter word for word. She cried, and I cried, too, by God.

Driving home back 72 miles back to my home in North Carolina, I had such a rush of emotion of the fact that, you know, when you send somebody to give their life to this country, you better be sure that it is necessary, there is no other option.

KWAME HOLMAN: This week, Jones signed on as a co-sponsor of the Democrats’ resolution, bucking his president and most members of his party. He explained why he felt he should.

REP. WALTER JONES: Because I have such strong faith in God that this one word that I think is critical to the future of a democracy, and that one word is “truth.” The American people must have the truth, because if they have the truth, then they will support their government. But if they start questioning whether their government, no matter which level of government, is not giving them the truth, then I think they will rebel.

KWAME HOLMAN: James Clyburn, the House Democratic whip, said he believed Jones spoke for many of his Republican colleagues, who were stifled during years of strict Republican rule.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), Majority Whip: I think that many of them were just as disenchanted with what was happening to them about their leadership as we were.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Jones didn’t speak for Darrell Issa of California. Issa came to the floor to argue certain members were telling the troops in Iraq to give up.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), California: They toppled Saddam, and now they’re being told to cut and run. That’s what this is leading to. Mr. Speaker, we cannot do that, and we know it.

KWAME HOLMAN: North Carolina Republican Howard Coble, who also supported the resolution, mocked that line of attack.

REP. HOWARD COBLE (R), North Carolina: “Oh, you cannot leave.” “You will be accused of cutting and running,” we’re told. If we had removed Saddam, which most Iraqis wanted, and then withdrew four or five weeks later, or even four or five months later, that would have constituted cutting and running.

But we’ve been there for years, Mr. Speaker. Over 3,100 of our troops have given the ultimate sacrifice; in excess of 25,000 have suffered injuries, many permanent, disabling injuries. This is sacrifice, not cutting and running.

Republican votes

KWAME HOLMAN: Ironically, most of the Republicans who voted against the president's troop buildup are from solidly Republican congressional districts.

However, New Mexico's Heather Wilson, who barely won re-election in the fall, opposed the resolution today, even though she also opposes the troop buildup. The first woman veteran ever elected to Congress, Wilson this week complained that the resolution would protect only the troops in Iraq, not the thousands yet to be deployed.

REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), New Mexico: What about the five brigades of young Americans who are now preparing their families and packing their gear to deploy? What about them? What are you saying to them? Will we buy body armor for them? Will we have armored Humvees for them?

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer rushed to the House floor to rebut Wilson's remarks.

REP. STENY HOYER: No one ought to come to this floor and say that this Congress, 435 of us, will not support whatever soldier, or sailor, or Marine is deployed to Iraq. Whether it's today or tomorrow, they will have our support.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the debate in the House continued to unfold today, Republican Leader John Boehner joined his Senate colleagues to predict the next move by the Democratic majority: an enforceable cutoff of funding for the war.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: This is all part of their plan to eliminate funding for our troops that are in harm's way. And we stand here as Republicans in the House and Senate committed to making sure our troops in harm's way have all the funds and equipment they need to win this war in Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: James Clyburn acknowledged that the resolution passed today was just the first of several moves to redirect U.S. policy in Iraq.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: It is a first step. It is an expression. It is saying to the president, if you put forth a policy that we do not think is the best policy, let's have a partnership here and let's have some discussions about how we ought to go forward, rather than have everything done on high and rubberstamped by this Congress. We are not going to rubberstamp anymore.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have scheduled a rare Saturday vote on how to proceed on the Iraq resolution there.

Debate in the Senate

Sen. Chuck Hagel
I will vote for cloture tomorrow, and the reason I will is this is just another procedural vote. We do need to move this forward now.

RAY SUAREZ: And for more on the action the Senate is preparing to take, we go to Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Early last week, the Democratic majority in the Senate tried and failed to muster the 60 votes needed to launch its own debate and vote on a resolution opposed to the troop buildup in Iraq. But with Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduling another such test vote tomorrow, will the results be any different?

For that we go to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He is one of several Senate Republicans who supports such a resolution, and yet voted against allowing a formal debate to begin.

Sen. Hagel, thank you very much for being with us. Since you support that resolution, refresh us on why you voted against allowing the debate last week?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Well, first, the vote was a procedural vote, as you have noted. And I, as you also noted, was one of the authors of the so-called Warner resolution and had an awful lot to do with framing it.

But as to why I voted the way I did, essentially it was because I have always believed the Senate is about one thing more than anything else, and that's protecting minority rights. And I believe that the minority, which I am a Republican, part of, even though I don't agree with my party's position on this, does deserve the right to frame its own resolutions, bring them to the floor for a vote, and we didn't have that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Have you changed your mind?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I will have to vote tomorrow again. And I will vote for cloture tomorrow, and the reason I will is this is just another procedural vote. We do need to move this forward now.

We've given the two leaders two weeks to try to resolve this. They have, at least so far, been unable to do it. We need to have the next series of votes. This is a procedural vote, and I will vote to move the procedure along.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you have changed your position.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I've only changed my position on the procedural vote, not on the issue.

Moving to debate the new measure

Sen. Chuck Hagel
This is going to go on for some time. It should be played out, so the American people have an opportunity to know exactly where their members of Congress, the House and Senate, stand on a further escalation of America's military involvement in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it's a matter of whether the debate goes forward. Will the opponents now be able to get the 60 votes they need to allow this debate to get under way?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I doubt if there will be 60 votes tomorrow. But, again, I think we should keep our eye focused on the issue here, and that is debate of resolutions and votes on those resolutions.

We will have that debate, Judy. There's no question about that. What form it comes in is the only question. Obviously, the House passed today a resolution which we will take up, I believe, I hope, when we come back, if we go out next week.

But there will be different forms of the Iraqi debate. Appropriations, the president will be asking for $100 billion in new emergency supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan. So this is just but one set of issues, as far as the debate itself, and one set of votes.

This is going to go on for some time. And it should be played out, so the American people have an opportunity to know exactly where their members of Congress, the House and Senate, stand on a further escalation of America's military involvement in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But essentially what the Senate will be saying, if they don't get the 60 votes to let the debate go forward, is that they don't think it's important enough to make this statement, at least not enough senators do.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I don't ever ascribe to any of my colleagues their motives or reasons why they vote the way they do. I just explained why I'm going to vote for cloture, because I think it is, this issue, Iraq, is the most important, pressing issue facing this country.

And I think it's going to become more and more dangerous, unless we do have an honest, open debate on this, so the American people can hear it. We don't want to put America in a position which it could well be in, in six months, where the American people are so frustrated they say to their members of Congress, "We want out. Let's just cut the funding, and we want out."

That would be the wrong thing to do, in my opinion, and irresponsible. But it could get there, unless we work our way along here on these issues that we should be debating.

The impact of a nonbinding measure

Sen. Chuck Hagel
[I]f we cannot take the time to debate and have a very legitimate discussion on behalf of the American people, and especially the military men and women we ask to go fight and die and their families, then what are we there for?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say to those who will say, well, the House has now made a clear statement, with its vote today, opposing the troop surge, supporting the troops, but opposing the president's policy. The Senate, on the other hand, if what happens tomorrow is as you say, is going to look as if it's still tied in knots over this.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, that's right. And the American people have a rather low regard for the Congress of the United States, as well as the president, right now, reflected in every poll, and we deserve it.

My goodness, if we cannot take the time to debate and have a very legitimate discussion on behalf of the American people, and especially the military men and women we ask to go fight and die and their families, then what are we there for? What is our job, if we don't do this?

So, yes, if we can't get cloture tomorrow, I think the American people will lose further confidence in our ability to help govern this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet, senator, in both houses we're talking about a nonbinding resolution. Does it really amount to very much, when all is said and done?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Oh, it does, absolutely. When you put the Congress of the United States on record on any of these big policy issues, that's significant.

You know, I've heard some of my colleagues here in the Senate talk about paper mache, paper confetti resolutions. Well, I remind them, Judy, and I reminded them rather pointedly in a floor speech I gave this week, because I quoted a number of them, from past debates over the last 12 years, on Bosnia, and Haiti, and Somalia, and Kosovo, nonbinding resolutions, when we had troops over there, putting the Senate on record on what our position is.

The Congress can't lead. He can't conduct any policy, especially foreign policy or war policy, without the support of the American people and without the support of the Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, senator, you mentioned appropriations. You know, there are those over in the House who are talking about funding issues down the road. If you can't even in the Senate get enough votes together to have a debate on a nonbinding resolution, what makes you think there would be enough votes in the future to affect funding or appropriations for this war?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, this is a matter of convergence, Judy. The events are taking us along a very swift current, and I don't have a doubt in my mind that this debate is going to occur.

We will be forced to debate on appropriations, Judy. There's no question about that. You can't evade that or avoid making the hard choices, when we are all going to have to vote on the president's supplemental emergency appropriations request. We're going to have to vote on the defense authorization appropriations request.

So, within that framework, we'll have a very intense debate on Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say to the viewers out there, the American people, who are looking at the Congress and saying, "Come down on one side of this, one side or -- on this issue, one side or another"?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I think that's partly what we saw in the House resolution debate today. That's what we will see in the resolutions we eventually debate in the Senate, the positions we take.

Now, one of the resolutions that is before the Senate, not formally yet, but one of them that I helped write, the so-called Warner resolution, we do take a position that we're opposed to further military escalation in Iraq.

And then we also say that there are some things we think the administration should be doing to enhance our position. And I think that's responsible. So, no, we take a position on it. Either you're for it or you're against the escalation of American military involvement in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just quickly, how long before you think there will be action in the Senate?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I can't predict. The next vote's tomorrow, and we'll see. But we can't avoid this. It is going to catch up with us. And the longer we avoid it, the more we squander the public trust of the American people and we fail the American people, and these military men and women, and their families.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Chuck Hagel, thank you very much.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Thanks, Judy.