Sunday, November 20, 2005

House Republicans Stoop To New Lows


House rejects Iraq pullout

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a maneuver to strike at Iraq war critics, the Republican-led House of Representatives engineered a vote on Friday on a resolution to pull U.S. troops immediately from Iraq, which was defeated nearly unanimously.

Republicans, who introduced the surprise resolution hours before lawmakers were to start a Thanksgiving holiday recess, said the vote was intended to show support for U.S. forces.

Democrats denounced it as a political stunt and an attack on Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a leading Democratic military hawk who stunned his colleagues on Thursday by calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as quickly as possible.

The action by House Republicans was the latest volley in an offensive launched by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney last week to attack war critics as unpatriotic and hypocritical.

"The best strategy to keep America safe is to continue taking the fight to the terrorists, not to retreat in the face of the despicable attacks of a determined enemy," the White House said in a statement.

Unlike Murtha's proposal calling for troops to be withdrawn "as soon as practicable," which he expected would be about six months, the Republican resolution said deployment of the U.S. forces should be "terminated immediately."

Democrats said no one advocated an immediate pull-out without ensuring the safety of troops, and that it was a meaningless resolution that ducked serious debate on the situation in Iraq. It was defeated 403-3.

"To take this proposal and trash it, trivialize it, is outrageous," said Rep. John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Republicans had "stooped to a new low even for them."

Many Democrats have called on Bush to present a plan to end the war and an estimate of when U.S. forces can start to be withdrawn based on conditions on the ground. Only a few have called for a set timetable for withdrawal.

During the emotional, raucous debate, Ohio Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt read a letter from an Ohio state representative who she said asked her to send Congress and Murtha "a message that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Democrats erupted, halting floor debate, and Schmidt withdrew the remark.

Lawmakers from both parties then applauded Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran and retired Marine colonel, with several ovations.

Murtha said he had received "an outpouring from this country" since his call to withdraw troops from "people thirsting for an answer to this problem" in Iraq."

Iraqis "must be put on notice the United States will immediately redeploy," he said. "All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from the United States occupation."

Republicans countered with another war hero, Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas who was a war prisoner in Vietnam for seven years.

"When I was a p.o.w. I was scared to death when our Congress talked about pulling the plug that I would be left there forever," Johnson said. Soldiers "need to have full faith that a few naysayers in Washington won't cut and run and leave them high and dry."

Americans have become increasingly disenchanted with the Iraq war, which claimed its 2,000th U.S. military death last month. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have also died.

Bush, in South Korea for a summit of Asian leaders, rejected calls for a timetable to withdraw, and vowed "we will stay in the fight" until victory.

Despite several such speeches, the Republican-led Senate voted on Tuesday to require progress reports on the war from Bush and said Iraqis should start taking the lead in their own security next year to allow a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan charged Murtha with endorsing a "surrender" policy advocated by "extreme" liberals such as filmmaker Michael Moore.

That provoked a swift response from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, last year's defeated Democratic presidential candidate.

"It disgusts me that a bunch of guys who have never put on the uniform of their country venomously turn their guns on a Marine who came home from Vietnam with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts," he said.

Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam period and never saw combat. Cheney received draft deferments that kept him out of the military during Vietnam.

(Additional reporting by Alan Elsner)