WASHINGTON — Hundreds of lawmakers stood on the House floor this week to denounce President Bush’s decision to send 48,000 more combat and support troops to Iraq. They spoke during 36 hours of debate on a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of the “troop surge,” with many vowing to push ahead on binding legislation to end the four-year war.
It was the first formal debate on the Iraq war since the war began, and in fact, the first such debate in Congress since the Vietnam War. The resolution, H.Con.Res. 63, sponsored by Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.), was expected to be approved Feb. 16, with scores of Republicans breaking with Bush to vote with the Democrats.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Bush believes more troops will quell the violence in Iraq. “History has proven just the opposite,” she said. “Four previous troop escalations have resulted primarily in escalating levels of violence.” She urged a vote for H.Con.Res. 63, which expresses support for the troops already in Iraq but opposes Bush’s troop surge. Passage, she said, will “set the stage” for stronger initiatives to force an end to the war in the weeks ahead.
The Republicans blocked debate in the Senate through procedural trickery on rival “stay the course” resolutions. By contrast, the House, with a stronger Democratic majority, adopted a rule that barred Republicans from offering rival resolutions. A poll showed that 70 percent of the public favored the anti-surge resolution.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to push for a Senate vote on the measure before the end of the month.
On the first day of the debate, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq veterans blasted the Iraq war as illegal and immoral.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a Korean War vet, an opponent of the Vietnam War and one of 133 who voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002, assailed the Republican-majority 109th Congress for lack of oversight.
“No longer will Congress stand by while the president wages a war that defies logic,” he said. “We must stop wasting American lives and resources on this disastrous conflict.”
Conyers spoke of U.S. Marine Carroll Hill of Michigan, 19, who died in Iraq. “I don’t want to see one more life extinguished on the altar of this administration’s war,” he said. “The question is how we remove ourselves from this conflict. The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse and so we must use that power.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said Congress must act quickly to terminate funds for the Iraq war. “The administration is already on its way to the next war, on Iran,” he said.
Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) said he voted against the war in 2002. “I couldn’t see what invading Iraq had to do with securing the homeland,” he said. “The Iraq war has not and cannot make us safer. Instead, it is costing American taxpayers $200 million every day.” With the half trillion squandered in Iraq, Baca said, the federal government could put 17 million students through college, hire 6 million teachers and rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
North Carolina Republican Henry Coble said he would vote for the resolution. “We’ve been there [in Iraq] for years,” he said. “This is sacrifice, not cut and run. The cost to taxpayers has been astronomical, unbelievable. I am personally high on Mr. Bush but on the question of troop escalation, I am not with him.”
Republican Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland said, “I am going to vote for the resolution for many reasons. It is not a retreat from Iraq. It’s a step forward in the right direction.” Citing presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon who opened talks with the Soviet Union and China, Gilchrest called for “dialogue instead of war, a surge of diplomacy. Our enemies are ignorance, dogma and arrogance.”
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), together with many other Republican warhawks, attempted to shift the debate from Bush’s disastrous war policy to fear-mongering that the nation is menaced by “militant Islamic jihadism” in a “clash of civilizations.”
Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a captain in the 82nd Airborne who won the Bronze Star in Iraq, debunked the GOP attempt to muddy the waters.
“The president’s plan to send more of our best and bravest to die refereeing a civil war in Iraq is wrong,” he said. “The president’s current strategy is not resolute. It is reckless.”
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