Saturday, November 19, 2005

The House last night overwhelmingly voted down a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, as Republicans tried to draw a line in the sand after a week’s worth of back-and-forth charges over the war.

The resolution failed 403-3, with six voting present. Those voting for it were Democrats Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, Robert Wexler of Florida and Jose E. Serrano of New York.

Republican leaders wanted to force Democrats to take a stand on whether they endorsed Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. John P. Murtha’s Thursday proposal to begin a six-month withdrawal from Iraq.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, put a resolution on the floor for a vote urging “that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.”

“We’re going to let every member answer that, and I hope the message that goes back to our troops in Iraq is that we do not support a precipitous pullout,” Mr. Hunter said before the vote.

Other Republicans were more direct: “We’ll put it to a vote, see if Democrats really want immediate withdrawal,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, the Georgia Republican who represents the home base of the Army’s 3rd Infantry. “Their hate for George Bush is so great they don’t seem to care about the ramifications of reckless statements.”

An early test vote on procedural rules to start the debate passed 211-204, with six Republicans having joined Democrats and one independent in voting “no.”

Democrats were furious about the situation, calling the vote an attack on Mr. Murtha rather than a serious policy debate.

“Whoever thought up this pipe dream should be ashamed of themselves. It brings incredible shame to this House,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

For his part, Mr. Murtha, a decorated, retired Marine Corps colonel, said his goal was to let Iraqis know they must step forward and take control.

“All of Iraq must know Iraq is free — free from United States occupation.”

He spoke for about half an hour and read letters of support for him from the wife of an injured soldier and from Gold Star parents who lost a child in the war.

He received three standing ovations from the entire chamber.

But Republicans countered with their own war hero, Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, who spent years in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam. He told of how POWs learned about the lack of support back home.

“I know what it does for morale, I know what it does for our mission, and so help me God I will never let our nation make that mistake again.”

Democrats said Republicans were pulling a trick because the resolution on the floor was not the same as Mr. Murtha’s. He had called for withdrawing in a safe and orderly manner, while the Republican resolution called for an immediate pullout.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, suggested the idea to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and the Republican conference yesterday morning and it met with a round of applause.

He said the headlines after Mr. Murtha’s call both in U.S. and overseas news services like Al Jazeera referred to immediate withdrawal, and those must be countered with a clear House vote.

“The signal will be that we will clear up any ambiguity, that friend and foe alike will understand the elected representatives of the people of the United States say no to immediate withdrawal,” he said.

Some Republican members questioned putting a different resolution on the floor, but Republican leaders said they wanted to boil the issue down to its essence — withdraw or remain.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who made his mark as the anti-war candidate in the 2004 presidential primary, said he would vote against the resolution because it wasn’t serious.

“They have no intention of taking us out [of Iraq],” he said. “This is trifling with the troops. It’s playing with people’s lives.”

At one point during the debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio Republican and the newest member of the House, said she had received a call from a veteran and member of Ohio’s state legislature , who said to send a message to Mr. Murtha: “Cowards cut and run, and Marines never do.”

Instantly, two dozen Democrats shot to their feet and demanded her words be “taken down,” a precursor to House punishment, because she insulted Mr. Murtha. Rep. Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat, said the use of Mr. Murtha’s name and “coward” were in “too close a proximity” to let the matter go.

Ms. Schmidt withdrew her words, but not before Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., Tennessee Democrat, seemed to be headed for a fight with Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. Mr. Tancredo afterward said he had been arguing with another Democrat over some of the charges Democrats had hurled at Republicans during yesterday morning’s budget vote, and said Mr. Ford must have thought the argument was about Mr. Murtha.

“Say it to Murtha,” Mr. Ford repeatedly shouted at Mr. Tancredo while he was being restrained by other members. Mr. Tancredo said he replied he wasn’t talking about Mr. Murtha and told Mr. Ford to go sit down.

“You guys are pathetic. Pathetic,” Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, shouted.

Those on both sides said they had never seen an atmosphere so charged.

“When was the last time you heard the word ‘coward’ used on the floor,” Mr. Snyder said.

It’s the latest escalation in a back-and-forth over Iraq — both in the run-up to the war and in how President Bush has conducted it since the capture of Baghdad — that has raged all week in Washington and across the Pacific, where Mr. Bush is right now.

Earlier yesterday, a U.S. field commander in Iraq countered Mr. Murtha’s position, as Republicans chastised the Democrat for advocating what they called a strategy of surrender and abandonment.

“Here on the ground, our job is not done,” said Col. James Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, during a weekly briefing that U.S. field commanders give to Pentagon reporters.

Democrats and some Republicans defended Mr. Murtha as a patriot, even as many declined to back his view.

“I won’t stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha,” said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Also a Vietnam veteran, Mr. Kerry was dogged during the campaign by a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who challenged his war record.

Mr. Murtha’s fellow Pennsylvanian, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, said: “I have enormous respect for John Murtha and I have known him for more than three decades and he’s very knowledgeable, and when Congressman Murtha says something people listen, including Arlen Specter.”

On Tuesday, the Senate defeated a Democratic push for Mr. Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Mr. Bush several times in the past week has emphasized the importance of staying in Iraq and lashed out at Democrats for accusing him of manipulating intelligence to justify the Iraq war, saying such “false charges” undercut U.S. troops in harm’s way.

[Bullet] This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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