By ANNE FLAHERTY
Almost four years into the Iraq war, the House began a historic and emotional debate Tuesday on whether President Bush’s decision to add more U.S. troops to the bloody conflict is a mistake that has to be reversed.
Democrats won control of Congress in last November’s elections and were determined to pass a resolution disapproving of the president’s decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional combat troops
“This is the debate that many of us have yearned for for four years,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
The measure, expected to be approved by the House on Friday, was nonbinding. But the message was unmistakable, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who maintained that Bush’s policies “have not worked, will not work and must be changed.”
Republicans, in the minority for the first time in 12 years, issued emotional warnings of the consequences of undermining the president’s policies in Iraq. “We will embolden terrorists in every corner in the world. We will give Iran free access to the Middle East,” said Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “And who doesn’t believe the terrorists will just follow our troops home?”
Boehner teared up before reporters as he listened to Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, describe being a prisoner of war in Vietnam and learning of U.S. protests back home.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., insisted that they had no intention of impeding the mission of those in Iraq. “There will be no defunding of troops in the field. There will be no defunding which will cause any risk to the troops,” he said at a news conference.
The House rejected, on a 227-197 vote, a Republican procedural attempt to force a vote on a proposal that would have barred Congress from cutting off funding for American troops in harm’s way.
Democrats expressed confidence the measure would prevail and said they would attempt to use it as the opening move in a campaign to pressure Bush to change course and end U.S. military involvement in the war. More than 3,100 U.S. troops have died in nearly four years of fighting.
As the House moved toward debate this week, Senate Republicans opposed to Bush’s Iraq plan sought to revive a vote on a similar resolution.
Democrats called on several freshmen who served in the military to make their argument against further commitments in Iraq.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., a captain in the Army 82nd Airborne, said that “three years after I left Iraq, Americans are still running convoys up and down Ambush Alley and securing Iraqi street corners.”
But Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., stressed that “we go to war to win, we go to war with a mission.” He said “we dishonor the lives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice if we in fact abandon that mission. …. We have a duty to pursue nothing less than victory.”
Republicans conceded that the measure was headed for approval and said a few dozen members of the GOP were likely to break ranks and vote for it.
In a reversal, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership decided Monday night not to give Republicans a chance to propose an alternative measure Ã¢â‚¬â€ a move that drew protests from Boehner.
“At the end of the debate, we will vote on a straightforward proposition: Whether we support the president’s plan or oppose it,” Pelosi said in her prepared remarks. “That vote will signal whether the House has heard the message the American people have sent about this war. The current policies have not worked, will not work and must be changed.”
It was the first debate about the war in either house of Congress since November’s midterm elections, when public opposition to the conflict helped power Democrats to control of the House and Senate.
Bush’s decision last month to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to help stop sectarian violence has quickly become a flashpoint for critics of the war in Congress. There are currently about 141,000 American troops in Iraq and 27,000 in Afghanistan.
The nonbinding measure states simply that the House “will continue to support and protect” troops serving in Iraq but that it “disapproves” of the troop buildup.
While such legislation can neither force Bush’s hand nor bring the war to a close, the vote could be a politically embarrassing rejection of his Iraq policy and help Democrats reassert congressional oversight of the war.
Each of the House’s 435 members and five delegates were being allotted five minutes to speak on the issue. Democratic leaders said Monday they planned to restrict members to a single vote by week’s end, barring any amendments or a GOP alternative Ã¢â‚¬â€ a tack Republican leaders decried as unfair.
“After promising to make this Congress the most open and honest in history, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi has effectively shut out both Republicans and Democrats from substantively debating the most important issue of our time,” said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.
Pelosi and other Democrats said restricting debate to one measure will force members to go on record on the war without hiding behind political ploys.
This week’s debate will be in sharp contrast to the one in 2002, which authorized Bush to use force if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. That debate resulted in solid margins of support from Republicans and Democrats.
In October 2002, just over half of the public Ã¢â‚¬â€ 52 percent Ã¢â‚¬â€ approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq in Gallup polling. But Bush now faces a new political landscape. More than 3,100 U.S. troops have died and the justification for the invasion has been discredited with a majority of the public.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press