Thursday, February 15, 2007

GOP vs. GOP in House Iraq debate

GOP vs. GOP in House Iraq debate
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Democrats now control the House, but for two hours Wednesday, they took a back seat as Republicans argued amongst themselves over President Bush's Iraq policy.

Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose North Carolina district includes the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, led a dozen GOP lawmakers who spoke against the president's plan to commit 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Several said they were doing so despite their personal affection and admiration for the president.

"I am personally very high on President Bush, but on the matter of the troop escalation, I am not in agreement," said Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C. "The Iraqi people were given a choice between freedom and civil war. Unfortunately, they chose the latter."

At the same time, the president took to the airwaves to try to sell his policy at a televised news conference.

The extent of the Republican opposition to Bush's plan is the only suspense left in the debate. Drafted by Jones and two senior Democrats, the resolution states support for the soldiers, but opposition to a troop increase. The resolution is all but certain to win approval on Friday.

"We will lose some," conceded House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who spoke against Bush's policy Wednesday, predicted in an interview that there will be between 20 and 40 Republican defectors when the roll is called. In 2002, six Republicans (along with 126 Democrats) voted against giving the president the power to go to war.

The Republican critiques of the Bush policy were at times pointed. "More of the same on steroids," is how Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., described it. They demonstrated how deeply disillusionment has set in since the heady days when lawmakers celebrated the massive turnout for Iraq's first free elections.

"Unfortunately, it seems that the Americans want a unified and secure Iraq more than the Iraqis do," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla.

The Republican opposition also prompted sharp retorts from colleagues who support the president's policy.

"Whose side are you on?" said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "Are you on the side of freedom or are you on the side of allowing the terrorists to get the upper hand?"

Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said the troop increase is necessary to "the defense of liberty and our way of life."

"This is a religious conflict," Wamp said. "We're at war with Islamic jihadists."

The Republicans favoring the resolution run the political gamut. Centrists argued that diplomatic and political initiatives would be a better alternative to a troop increase.

"I believe that surges will continue to be unsuccessful without a comprehensive diplomatic strategy," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.

Fiscal conservatives questioned how the nation will pay its bills "if we keep trying to run the whole world," as Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said.

Some Republicans who oppose the troop increase, including Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., expressed frustration that Democratic congressional leaders did not allow them to offer amendments. "I will vote in favor of the resolution as offered as narrow and inadequate as it is; but I can't help but express my frustration that the Democrat leadership has squandered an opportunity to allow a full and fair debate with real amendments," English said.

That may cost the resolution some Republican support. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a former Air Force captain and the only female veteran in Congress, said Wednesday that even though she is "skeptical of the Baghdad mission" she will vote against the resolution because it "leave unanswered the question of whether we will fund the bullets and body armor for troops who are not there yet but are going."

Wilson's comments prompted an unscheduled appearance on the House floor by an agitated Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. He insisted that soldiers in battle will have funds and armaments available.

"No one in this Congress will not support them," Hoyer said.