- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

2:19 p.m.

The House today handily rejected a timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, culminating a fierce election-year debate between Republicans and Democrats over the unpopular war.

In a 256-153 vote that mirrored the position taken earlier by the Senate, the Republican-led House approved a nonbinding resolution that praises U.S. troops, labels the Iraq war part of the larger global fight against terrorism and says an “arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment” of troops is not in the national interest.

“Retreat is not an option in Iraq,” declared House Majority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Achieving victory is our only option … We have no choice but to confront these terrorists, win the war on terror and spread freedom and democracy around the world.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California answered, “Stay the course, I don’t think so, Mr. president. It’s time to face the facts.

“The war in Iraq has been a mistake. I say, a grotesque mistake,” she said when calling for a new direction in the conflict.

Four months before midterm elections that will decide control of Congress, House Republicans sought to force Republicans and Democrats alike to take a position on the conflict, which began with the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003.

Democrats denounced the debate and vote as a politically motivated charade, and most, including Mrs. Pelosi, voted against the measure. They said supporting it would have the effect of affirming Mr. Bush’s “failed policy” in Iraq.

Balking carried a risk for Democrats, particularly when they see an opportunity to win back control of Congress from the Republicans. Republicans likely will use Democratic “no” votes to claim that their opponents don’t support U.S. troops.

In fact, 42 Democrats broke ranks and joined with all but three Republicans to support the resolution. Two Republicans and three Democrats declined to take a position by voting present.

Republicans and Democrats alike explained the decision, as each side saw it, that voters have to make in November.

“The choice for the American people is clear; don’t run in the face of danger; victory will be our exit strategy,” Rep. Mike Conaway, Texas Republican, said.

Countered Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat: “It’s not a matter of stay the course. It’s a matter of change direction.”

Some Republican incumbents who face tough challenges from Democrats in November issued qualified support for the measure while criticizing the Republican-led Congress.

“The American people are looking to us to answer their questions on how much progress is being made, what are the Iraqis themselves willing to do to fight for their freedom, and when will our men and women come home,” Rep. Jim Gerlach, Pennsylvania Republican, said before voting in favor of the resolution.

The House vote comes one day after the Senate soundly rejected a call to withdraw combat troops by year’s end by shelving a proposal that would allow “only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces” to remain in Iraq in 2007.

That vote was 93-6, but Democrats assailed the GOP maneuver that led to the vote as political gamesmanship and promised further debate next week on a proposal to start redeploying troops this year.

Related article:

Troop pullout from Iraq rejected by Senate

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