Anti-war Jones wooed by Dems, but plans to stay in GOP for now

In his 13 years as a member of Congress, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) never had received more than 30 minutes on the House floor — until the Iraq war resolution debate.

“They gave me about an hour and 15 minutes,” Jones said during an interview at his congressional office, referring to his colleagues across the aisle. “I was most grateful — I have been here for 13 years and I have never been given 30 minutes, much less an hour and 15 minutes.”

Jones’s position on Iraq has drawn Democrats to him in recent years, and particularly in the last two months, since he was denied a subcommittee chairmanship on the Armed Services Committee.

While declining to identify which of “several” Democrats have approached him about switching parties, Jones said, as he has many times before, that he plans to stick with the GOP for now.

“Obviously there were some Democrats when I was not given the ranking member status of Armed Services [who wanted] to chat with me,” he said, noting that Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) has said publicly that his party would support a swap.

“I [would] welcome him in the Democratic Caucus,” Taylor told CongressDaily in January.

“You know it’s my political nature to be … I’m guided by my faith. Quite frankly, I’m strong pro-life,” Jones said to explain his allegiance, noting that he didn’t believe the Democratic leadership was in line with him on such social issues. “I just take each day as it comes; I certainly think about where I will be a year or two, three years from now, but that’s God’s plan, not mine … I think at the present time, because of the pro- life issue primarily, I am where I need to be.

“But I am an independent. There are issues I vote with my party on; there are issues I don’t,” he said.

While Jones said he was disappointed that Armed Services ranking member Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) decided against selecting him to lead the Readiness subcommittee due to his stance on the Iraq war, he said Hunter notified him personally about the decision.

“He came to my office and he said, ‘Walter, if you remember, I was the first Republican to come to your district when you challenged for this seat in 1994.’ He said, ‘I did a breakfast for you at 7:30 in the morning.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, I remember.’ He said, ‘I have a lot of respect for you, but I don’t agree with you on Iraq and I feel that I must not recommend you for ranking member.’ And I said, ‘Chairman, I’m disappointed, but I’m not mad. But I would ask you if I’m not going to be ranking member that you would put me on the oversight committee,’” Jones recalled.

Hunter did. He could not be reached for this report.

Jones’s views on the war attracted national attention last month, when he became the only Republican to cosponsor a non-binding resolution to disapprove of President Bush’s plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

At the height of debate on the resolution, Republican leaders were concerned that as many as 30 of their members would vote across party lines. Others put the estimate at over 50.

After the votes were tallied, Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) looked at the numbers as a sign that Republicans had “won the debate.”

Jones was probably one of the only members of Congress who was surprised when 16 Republicans joined him in voting for the Democratic resolution. He was humbled and proud of the number.

“Well, let me explain that I was always saying 15-25. I want to tell the truth, but a couple days before, my dear friend (Rep.) Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) … kept saying, ‘Walter, I think we might get 25-30,’ so I started thinking, maybe we are going to get 25-30.”

Jones said that given the influence of the Republican leadership and executive branch on Republican lawmakers, he was impressed that 10 members joined him in denouncing Bush’s plan on the House floor.

“I think when you evaluate the pressure, I think that was a pretty strong vote. Not as many as I wanted, but I thought it was a pretty strong vote,” he said.

Republican leaders vowed not to whip the vote on the resolution, but Jones indicated that meetings were held in order to persuade members away from voting on the resolution.

“Republicans knew that the administration did not want them to vote for it. I can’t say that I know phone calls were made, but I think phone calls were made and by whom I don’t know,” he said. “I know that Republican leadership had conferences after conferences trying to get people not to vote for the resolution … when I say ‘pressure,’ that’s what I mean — I don’t mean any threatening-type pressure; that did not happen.”

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