WASHINGTON — Lawmakers returned to the capital from a July 4th recess with their constituents’ urgent demands for an end to the Iraq war still ringing in their ears.
The pressure is so intense that Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (Maine), Charles Hagel (Neb.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) signed on to a Democratic amendment to begin withdrawal of troops within 120 days and to complete the withdrawal by April 30, 2008. Until now, they stopped short of supporting troop withdrawal timetables.
Last week, New Mexico’s Republican senator, Pete Domenici, broke with Bush on the war. “Things are getting worse, not better, in Iraq,” Domenici charged. Other Republican senators who have criticized Bush’s war policy include Richard Lugar (Indiana), George Voinovich (Ohio) and John Warner (Virginia).
One White House official told ABC News that the administration was “in a panic mode” over the plummeting support for Bush’s Iraq policies.
In a sign that the antiwar din will grow louder, a dozen Catholic members of Congress wrote a joint letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asking them to mobilize church members against the war. There are over 60 million Catholics in the United States.
“As Catholic members of Congress, we stand in unison with the Catholic Church in opposition to the war in Iraq,” states the letter, which questions whether the conflict meets the definition of a “just war.” The letter concludes, “Yet to attain the ideal of peace, we must not only speak with words, we must take action … manifest in our efforts to enact legislation that will bring an end to this war.”
Moira Mack, spokesperson for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), told the World that Domenici’s statement “comes just two days after the Iraq Summer campaign was launched in New Mexico to pressure the senator to split with President Bush and vote for a responsible end to the war.”
AAEI, a coalition that includes the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, USAction, Vote Vets and Win Without War, launched “Iraq Summer,” sending 100 organizers to 15 states and 40 congressional districts “to turn up the heat” on Republicans to end their support of the war or face defeat in the 2008 elections.
Mack said the antiwar movement is demanding that Republicans “put their votes where their mouth is. It’s great for them to be with us rhetorically, but until they actually vote to end the war, we’re going to keep the pressure on.”
This week, 1.3 million pre-recorded calls from Iraq war veteran John Bruhns will be made to concerned citizens in key Republican-held congressional districts. Bruhns asks the recipients to contact their congressperson and ask him or her to vote for legislation “to get our troops out of this endless war.”
Political commentator Al Franken, who is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota, wrote an open letter to Coleman. “It’s time for you to join me and a broad majority of our fellow Minnesotans in insisting that President Bush change course on Iraq and start bringing the troops home,” Franken wrote.
Support for Bush’s war “is now collapsing even among his most faithful Republican allies in Congress,” Mack said. “We urge New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson to join Domenici and the overwhelming majority of Americans in denouncing Bush’s failed Iraq policy.”
Sue Udry, legislative coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, told the World UFPJ is exerting grassroots pressure on the lawmakers to take advantage of the Republican defections to press for the complete and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. She warned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheming to “to build bipartisan political support for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq” by leaving 60,000 troops in Iraq permanently. UFPJ is urging its members to bombard lawmakers with the message, “Do not allow any troops to be left behind. Halfway measures … are not acceptable.”
Bush announced July 10 that he will veto the $648 billion Defense Authorization Bill if it contains any measure that removes troops. The Senate opened debate on the Pentagon spending bill this week with an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that would begin troop withdrawals within 120 days.
Even the White House July 15 “progress report” paints a glum picture of no headway in quelling violence and meeting the so-called benchmarks, according to reports based on leaked details of the document. Bush’s spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters, “Benchmarks are not a way to figure out how to get out of Iraq. What Congress will get this week is a snapshot of the beginning of the retooling of the mission in Iraq. … We’re at the starting point now.”
The Iraq war has been raging four and a half years, with over 3,600 U.S. troops dead and the cost to taxpayers now $12 billion each month.