- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Almost four years into the Iraq war, the House today began a historic debate on whether President Bush’s decision to add more U.S. troops to the bloody conflict is a mistake that has to be reversed.

“This is the debate that many of us have yearned for for four years,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat.

Democrats are determined to pass a resolution disapproving of the president’s decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq.

The measure, expected to be approved by the House on Friday, was nonbinding, but the message was unmistakable, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who maintained that Mr. 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 dire 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 A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “And who doesn’t believe the terrorists will just follow our troops home?”

Mr. Boehner teared up before reporters as he listened to Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, describe being a prisoner of war in Vietnam and learning of U.S. protests back home.

Democrats expressed confidence the measure would prevail and said they would attempt to use it as the opening move in a campaign to pressure Mr. 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 Mr. Bush’s Iraq plan sought to revive a vote on a similar resolution. Even before the formal debate began today, lawmakers from the two sides took to the floor to express their views.

“As a new member of the House, I feel it is my responsibility to ask serious questions of the president who refuses to take this institution seriously,” said freshman John Hall, New York Democrat.

“Some people from the other side seem to believe that if we pull out of Iraq, that the Iraqi people are going to go back to tending sheep and herding goats. That’s not what’s going to happen,” countered Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican. “If we pull out of Iraq, what’s going to happen is you are going to see more bloodshed than we have seen in a long time in this world.”

Republicans conceded that the measure was headed for approval and said a few dozen Republican members were likely to break ranks and vote for it.

In a reversal, Mrs. Pelosi and the Democratic leadership decided last night not to give Republicans a chance to propose an alternative measure [-] a move that drew protests from Mr. Boehner.

“At the end of the debate, we will vote on a straightforward proposition: Whether we support the president’s plan or oppose it,” Mrs. 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.

Mr. Bush’s decision last month to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to help stop sectarian violence has quickly become a flash point 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 Mr. 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 they planned to restrict members to a single vote by week’s end, barring any amendments or a Republican alternative [-] a tack Republican leaders decried as unfair.

“After promising to make this Congress the most open and honest in history, Nancy Pelosi has effectively shut out both Republicans and Democrats from substantively debating the most important issue of our time,” said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican.

Mrs. 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.

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