TOPICS > Politics

A Divided House

April 29, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: For an explanation of these Kosovo votes and what they mean, we’re joined by two members of the House leadership. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma is the Republican Conference Chairman; Democrat David Bonior of Michigan is the Minority Whip.

So Congressman, how should we read these votes? What do they mean?

REP. J. C. WATTS, R-OK: Margaret, there were several votes. One, I think there was a vote to declare war. No one thought that should be done. There was a vote to pull the troops out within 30 days. I think we do have a humanitarian mission there. I didn’t think that was the rights thing to do. Many members didn’t. That passed. The third vote was to the Goodling-Fowler legislation, was a piece of legislation that said “the president should consult Congress prior to committing ground troops.” And so we had a visit with the president yesterday in the White House, and he committed that he would consult Congress. So that legislation just kind of spelled out what the president committed to doing yesterday.

MARGARET WARNER: But then how about this vote, 213-213 not to support the air strikes, even for members such as yourself who didn’t vote to pull the troops out. What are you really saying?

REP. J. C. WATTS: Well, there was a lot — I think you can probably — many members I think had many different thoughts on that legislation — on that resolution. But what I was voting to say was — is I did not think that we should retroactively approve what the president was doing. A lot of us had problems with the policy to go in to start with. I think that vote, the best way to read that vote, Margaret, is members were saying to the president, “Had you asked us to do this prior to committing an air campaign, these are the results you would have gotten. 213-213, No.”

MARGARET WARNER: How do you read what happened yesterday?

REP. DAVID BONIOR, (D) Michigan: Well, it was extremely unfortunate, Margaret. What you have here is the American people supporting by about a two to one margin our efforts in the air campaign to stop this brutality. And this is brutality of genocidal proportions. We’re talking about a person here who is burning villages, a million homeless in Kosovo as a result of this action — women being raped as a weapon of war; sons and fathers being dragged off of convoys and shot to death. We heard something yesterday of about 100 that were killed; men and boys being tied up and burned alive. And the American people understand this. They understand oppression. They understand that very, very well. And at their core, they react to it. And that’s why there’s so much support in the country for this policy. NATO supports it. The Republicans in the Senate, 17 of them went along in a bipartisan way supporting this campaign. And last night the right wing of the Republican Party voted against it. And then this afternoon, as we saw in this film clip, they larded up the very planes they didn’t want to fly with a lot of military pork.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But when you say the right wing, what do you mean? What are you saying is the motivation?

REP. DAVID BONIOR: Well, I don’t know what the motivation is, but I suspect that they’re not very thrilled with this war, and they’re certainly not very thrilled with Mr. Clinton. And they’ve referred to it as Mr. Clinton’s war on the floor of the House on numerous occasions. The last thing we need to do is to make partisan this war effort. These are not Democrats or Republicans that are fighting there on our behalf and trying to end this genocide. These are American, young men and women. And we ought to be on their side. And we ought not to be sending a message and pulling the rug out from underneath them by voting against what they’re doing.

REP. J. C. WATTS: Margaret, I think — I think America can be involved in a humanitarian effort without being involved in a civil war. What that funding was in appropriations was the president sent up a $6 billion request, supplemental request. The President was replacing bullet for bullet, bomb for bomb. Republicans felt like we should go further. We’re $3 billion dollars short in basic military ammunition in the United States Army. We’re 18,000 sailors short in the United States Navy. We’re 700 pilots short in the United States Air Force. Even when we go into humanitarian missions, we still put our soldiers, America’s sons and daughters, in harm’s way. We feel like we should give them the resources to win. We’ve deployed our troops over the last six years over 30 times. The previous 40 years we deployed our troops 10 times. And the administration, what we’re saying is, is that we should put more into our military to give our soldiers the resources to win and not the resources to play the game.

REP. DAVID BONIOR: Nobody will disagree with that, giving them the resources that they need to win. The problem is yesterday a majority of Republicans voted to withdraw our troops from this conflict, and more than a majority, almost your whole caucus — with the exception of 31 individuals — voted to not sanction the air war.

REP. J. C. WATTS: And David, as I said, that vote yesterday is going to be seen many different ways. And I think it would be interesting to ask those 26, 28 Democrats why they voted with me on that and what my vote was and what many people’s votes were as we visited on the floor of the House with Republicans and Democrats is to say, “Mr. President, we don’t think that you should have committed us to an air campaign without coming to Congress, without giving us some type of strategy, without telling us what the exit strategy is, without saying what the cost could be economically, as far as human lives.” That was not spelled out. And I think many members had some real concerns that we were retroactively saying we approve of what the president did back on March 26th.

REP. DAVID BONIOR: Let’s be clear that almost 90 percent of the Democrats supported the action of our military yesterday. And about 15 percent of the Republicans did. The President has brought leading Democrats and Republicans. We had 50 some or so down to the White House, Senate and House members, to talk about this yesterday. He’s done this periodically on a regular basis to keep people apprised of it. I’m concerned that they were trying to pull the rug out from him on this one.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you both something. Will these votes have any practical effect?

REP. J. C. WATTS: I think the Fowler-Goodling amendment – I think -

MARGARET WARNER: Requiring the president to get congressional approval before using ground troops?

REP. J. C. WATTS: Exactly. I think that that is the vote that really amounts to a hill of beans that we took yesterday. And I think it was a good vote. I think it was a right vote. And I’m delighted that Ms. Fowler and Mr. Goodling offered that legislation.

MARGARET WARNER: And a lot of Democrats voted for that.

REP. DAVID BONIOR: About 44 Democrats voted for that. But the other piece of that, Margaret, is that the vote, no to support the present air war is a terrible vote for our fighting people going over there and then they’re looking and reading the next day that the House of Representatives did not support what they’re doing. And we’re having an effect there.

MARGARET WARNER: But you would agree or you would not agree that that vote has — is symbolic, it has no practical effect?

REP. DAVID BONIOR: Well, it has a practical effect in the sense that it gives sustenance to Milosevic and his people. The day before we had the deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia saying that Milosevic is losing, he’s not leveling with his people, that he’s isolated, that he can’t win this thing. Then we have the House of Representatives voting the very next day to bolster him.

MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, how do you think Slobodan Milosevic should read this vote?

REP. J. C. WATTS: Well, I think Slobodan Milosevic will see that Congress passed about a $12 billion appropriations. We’re going to replace bullet for bullet, bomb for bomb. We’re also going to go further, as we said in Appropriations, and put more money to strengthen our military even further. And so I think that’s a very significant vote to say the president requested $6 billion, but we went above and beyond. That we thought that was woefully low. We went above and beyond that to put more money to strengthen our military further.

MARGARET WARNER: So the president is going to have what he needs to prosecute this war, at least until ground troops?

REP. DAVID BONIOR: Yes. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, we don want you to fight, but on the other hand, we’re going to give you all the money you want.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.