WASHINGTON — Barely a week after convening, the 110th Congress moved to enact a bipartisan resolution condemning President George W. Bush’s plan to escalate the Iraq war by sending thousands more troops into the deadly quagmire.
Bush announced the “surge” in troops Jan. 10. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were already lining up lawmakers to oppose the escalation. Reid said virtually all Democratic senators and as many as 10 Republicans would vote for the resolution.
Win Without War, True Majority, MoveOn.org and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) urged vigils and rallies in every town and city for the day after the Bush speech. UFPJ announced an antiwar march and rally in Washington Jan. 27 that is expected to draw tens of thousands.
Virtually as their first initiative, Pelosi and Reid wrote a joint letter to Bush opposing escalation of the Iraq war. Pelosi told ABC’s Meet the Press the days of a “blank check” on Iraq are over. Congress may separate out and oppose additional funding requested for the troop “surge,” she warned.
When the new Congress convened, Jan. 3, on an unseasonably warm, sunny day you could feel the difference in political tone. Lawmakers and their families strolled to the Capitol Building, many wearing a lapel button that proclaimed, “Madam Speaker, 2007.” It celebrated the swearing in of Pelosi as the first woman speaker of the House.
As he walked to the Capitol, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told the World he is running for president in 2008 on a platform that “renounces war as in instrument of national policy. Nancy Pelosi has my full support. We have a 100-hour agenda to raise the minimum wage. We also have to bring the troops home from Iraq.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters here, “There are issues we can work on together with the administration. But a ‘surge’ in troops in Iraq? That is trouble. That’s not what voters voted for in November.”
Pelosi hailed her election as a victory for all women who have been struggling for equal rights for centuries. She vowed quick action to end policies inflicted in 12 years of Republican control including a pervasive “culture of corruption.”
Holding a giant sign reading “Congratulations Nancy Pelosi” in front of the Library of Congress were members of the National Organization for Women. Latifa Lyles, NOW’s vice president for membership, told the World, “This is a great day. Nancy Pelosi the first woman speaker. She has been an inspiration for millions of women and girls across the country. She is an incredible advocate for women’s rights.”
Lyles said NOW is mobilizing to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour and to fight any attempt to repeal Roe v. Wade. The latter stance was strengthened by the historic victory in defeating an anti-abortion ballot initiative in South Dakota last Nov. 7.
Melody Drnach, NOW’s vice president for action, said NOW had “set forth as our central goal a year ago to target specific House races” to insure a Democratic majority House knowing it would make Pelosi speaker. “When we were looking at it last January only a handful of House races were considered winnable. By last August, when we looked at it again, the number of competitive races had grown to 30,” which energized women across the country, she said.
Strolling on the Capitol grounds were AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Secretary- Treasurer Richard Trumka, and Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson.
“We had a great victory on Election Day,” Sweeney told the World. “I think the best part of it was that we saw workers get so deeply involved in the campaign. They were holding the candidates accountable. Now the real test is to hold these elected officials accountable on workers’ issues, jobs, the economy, health care, trade policy and international affairs.
“Nancy Pelosi’s election as speaker is historic,” he said. “She’s a great legislator and will be a great leader.”
Grassroots activists who traveled to Washington for the opening of the 110th Congress were in a joyous mood over the midterm elections that ended 12 years of majority Republican control.
Gary Staiger of Dayton, Ohio, was wearing a “Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate” lapel button. He told the World “I was just a worker bee in Ohio, planting lawn signs, talking to voters to urge them to vote out the Republicans.
“Ohio turned out to be a bellwether,” Staiger continued. “Bush carried the state in 2004 basically through lies. Sherrod Brown won because he addressed the real issues: the economy, the loss of jobs, the lack of health care. He addressed those issues from the point of view of the middle class. What next? Our message to lawmakers must be, ‘You got here because we put you here. Now act to deliver on our agenda, especially ending the war in Iraq.’”
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