By ANNE FLAHERTY
House Republicans are pulling out all the stops to win over GOP colleagues who may be wavering on whether to publicly rebuke President Bush’s decision to send more troops into Iraq.
In daylong debate Tuesday, Republicans used emotional pleas from former prisoners of war, political talking points on religious extremism and even Arab ambassadors to rail against a Democratic attempt to put Congress on record against the troop buildup.
“If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose,” Reps. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., and John Shadegg, R-Ariz., said in a letter to their GOP colleagues.
“Rather, the debate must be about the global threat of the radical Islamist movement,” they wrote.
The long-awaited floor debate on Iraq is the first since Democrats took control of Congress in the November midterm elections. It also comes as the war approaches the four-year mark with more than 3,100 U.S. troops dead.
Democrats made clear the nonbinding resolution was the beginning of a longer campaign to bring the Iraq war to an end.
“A vote of disapproval will set the stage for additional Iraq legislation, which will be coming to the House floor,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
Several Republicans concerned or opposed to the troop buildup, including Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, were expected to speak on the issue during continuing floor debate Wednesday.
Jones is the lone Republican co-sponsoring the Democratic resolution, which expresses support for U.S. troops in Iraq and opposition to sending in another 20,000-plus.
Several Republicans were expected to jump ship and support the resolution, and Republican leaders acknowledged they were likely to lose the vote, which is expected Friday.
Minority Leader John Boehner said Republicans were determined not to lose the broader debate on the war.
“Because they cannot defeat Americans on the battlefield, al-Qaida and terrorist sympathizers around the world are trying to divide us here at home,” said Boehner, R-Ohio. “Over the next few days, we have an opportunity to show our enemies that we will not take the bait.”
At a news conference, Boehner began tearing up as he listened to Rep. Sam Johnson describe his experience as a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam.
“Words can’t fully describe the unspeakable damage of the anti-American efforts against the war back home to the guys on the ground” in Vietnam, said Johnson, R-Texas, who was released 34 years ago on Tuesday.
Democrats had their own heavyweights when playing the military card, including Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired three-star Navy admiral. Sestak, who won his seat in November by campaigning against the war, said it would be unpatriotic to remain silent on the issue.
“If my 31 years in the military taught me anything, it was that we serve in this all-volunteer military to defend Americans’ freedom to think as they please and to say what they think, even if they disagree with their leaders,” Sestak said.
Republicans also offered members a chance to hear from the ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar. Nearly three dozen GOP members attended a Jan. 30 off-the-record briefing, hosted by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., with the ambassadors. On Tuesday, an estimated 50 Republicans attended another briefing, hosted by Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J.
According to lawmakers and aides, the ambassadors told members a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would be disastrous.
The effort came as several GOP members strayed from the party line.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who previously has supported Bush on the war, said he is concerned the president’s plan won’t work. But, he added, he is also concerned the resolution will be interpreted as a statement that Iraq is a lost cause.
“This vote may be very much like asking a husband when he stopped beating his wife,” he said. The issue of the war is “really much more complex.”
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would attempt to pass an identical measure later this month. Republicans blocked debate on a different proposal critical of the troop increase earlier this winter, after Democrats refused to give equal treatment to a GOP-backed alternative.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press