Republican defections over Iraq war increase

Despite pressure from the White House and House Republican leaders, a cluster of GOP lawmakers yesterday spoke out against President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

Despite pressure from the White House and House Republican leaders, a cluster of GOP lawmakers yesterday spoke out against President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

At least 11 Republicans indicated they will vote with Democrats on the Iraq resolution and that number is expected to grow by the dozens by the time the roll call is called later this week.

House Republican leaders and their aides have publicly said that they expect over 30 members to defect and vote for the Democratic resolution. But others say final number of defections could reach 50, and perhaps more.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday that he was going to make it “very clear” to members of Congress that funding the troops is a top priority and vowed not to allow Democrats to cut funding. However, the resolution states that the U.S. will continue to “support and protect” armed forces in Iraq.

Boehner said, “I’m going to make it very clear to members of Congress starting now that they need to fund our troops and they need to make sure we have the flexibility necessary to get the job done.”

Democratic leaders on Tuesday stacked their lineup of speakers with former soldiers and yesterday they yielded time to Republicans opposing the surge.

“Interjecting more young American troops into the crosshairs of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach,” said Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.). “I approached this decision with a great deal of angst and humility. I’m not trying to micromanage this war. I’m just a member of Congress, not a four-star general.”

Keller, who narrowly won reelection last November, also provided the most colorful analogy of the day: “Imagine your next door neighbor refuses to mow his lawn and the weeds are all the way up to his waist. You decide you’re going to mow his lawn for him every single week. The neighbor never says ‘thank you.’ He hates you and sometimes he takes out a gun and shoots at you,” Keller said. “Under these circumstances, do you keep mowing his lawn forever? Do you send even more of your family members over to mow his lawn? Or do you say to that neighbor, ‘You better step it up and mow your own lawn or there’s going to be serious consequences for you.’”

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a cosponsor of the non-binding resolution that would put the House on record of disapproving the surge, led the group of 11 Republicans that spoke out in favor of the measure.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.) said he would cross party lines and oppose the resolution. In Tuesday’s vote, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) was the only Democrat to vote against the rule bringing the resolution to the floor.

Several of the GOP lawmakers said that while they would support the resolution, they disagreed with how Democrats had conducted the debate. These Republicans, including Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) said it would have been better to allow amendments.

“I will support this resolution because I believe that surges will continue to be unsuccessful without a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to engage the international community and turn responsibility over to the Iraqi government,” Castle said.

Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) worried that the surge would further strain the U.S. military and lead to problems to recruit and retain soldiers in the future. He said it is time for Iraq “to step up” and take responsibility for its own security.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), who voted against the 2002 Iraq war resolution, expressed his belief that the invasion of Iraq was more about power, money and prestige than about a threat to U.S. security.

Other Republicans speaking out in favor of the resolution included Reps. Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Jim Ramstad (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas), who said he took the “traditional conservative position” on the war. Paul also voted against the 2002 resolution.

The other Republicans who spoke out were Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Despite their inability to offer an alternative to the Democratic resolution, Republicans managed yesterday to lure Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to the floor to defend his party and declare that they would not cut funding for the troops.

An emotional speech by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) seemed to be the last straw for Hoyer. Wilson, an Air Force veteran, characterized the resolution as meaningless and as a first step to cutting funding for the war by voting for the Democratic resolution.

Wilson, who barely won reelection last year, said that while she was skeptical of aspects of the president’s plan to deploy over 20,000 troops into Iraq, she was not willing to chastise him for the decision.

“The short two sentence resolution we will vote on this week does not address any of these important issue … If you are asking the wrong question, perhaps any answer will do,” Wilson said. “But we will vote on it anyway, and it will make headlines and accomplish nothing of the hard work we have in front of us… It is a disappointing abdication of our responsibility to grapple seriously with defining and protecting vital U.S. national interests in the Persian Gulf.”

Hoyer took to the floor soon after and insisted there was no plan to cut funding for troops.

“I was watching this debate from my office and I was constrained to come to the floor,” Hoyer said. “There are legitimate issues raised by this resolution as to whether or not you support or do not support the escalation that has been proposed by the president… No one ought to come to this floor and say that this Congress, 435 of us, will not support whatever soldier or sailor or Marine is deployed to Iraq...Whether it’s today or tomorrow, they will have our support.”  

Hoyer addressed Wilson’s remarks directly, and said her remarks did not accurately characterize the resolution.

“And, very frankly, for my friend from New Mexico to come to this floor and make the representation that somehow we have limited that support to those who currently are on the ground is not an honest representation, in my opinion,” Hoyer said.