House Begins Debate On War

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The House plunged into a heated, partisan debate yesterday on President Bush's war policy, with Democrats challenging lawmakers to take a stand against the deployment of more troops to Iraq while Republicans accused their political foes of emboldening the enemy with their symbolic resolution.

Democrats won control of Congress last fall in a political backlash against Bush's Iraq policy, and yesterday they decried a war they said was illegitimately launched and has been badly managed, with devastating consequences. They were helped by three newly elected Democratic lawmakers who were propelled into politics by their military experience in Iraq.

"We stand together to tell this administration that we are against the escalation, and to say with one voice that Congress will no longer be a blank check to the president's failed policies," said freshman Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), who was a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad. "The president's plan to send more of our best and bravest to die refereeing a civil war in Iraq is wrong."

Republicans focused on loftier themes, warning darkly about ceding Iraq to Islamic radicals who are bent on destroying not only the Middle East but also the American way of life. "We are engaged in a global war now for our very way of life," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "And every drop of blood that's been spilled in defense of liberty and freedom from the American Revolution to this very moment is for nothing if we're unwilling to stand up and fight this threat."

Scores of Democratic and Republican lawmakers took to the floor on the first of what is likely to be three days of intense debate on a tightly worded resolution opposing Bush's decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq.

The resolution affirms Congress's support for "the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq" before breaking with the president's new strategy.

The debate is expected to extend late into the night today and tomorrow before culminating in a House vote Friday. It is not the first extended House debate on the war, but it is the first since the invasion of Iraq nearly four years ago that is likely to conclude with a vote against the president.

"In a few days and in fewer than 100 words, we will take our country in a new direction on Iraq," pledged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Friday's vote will signal whether the House has heard the American people: No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq."

The House debate unfolded in an orderly, dignified fashion, in stark contrast to last week's tumult in the Senate, where Republicans blocked even a debate on the war resolution. Under House rules that heavily favor the majority, Democrats set the terms of the debate and even denied Republicans the opportunity to introduce an alternative measure. By the end of the week, only the Democratic resolution will come to a vote in the House, despite party leaders' pledges last week to give Republicans at least one vote.

The Democratic resolution is not binding on the administration, and both sides of the debate agreed that the real fight will come next month, when Democrats are to move to attach to a $100 billion war spending bill binding language that would limit future deployments to Iraq and begin to bring troops home.

Still, passage of the resolution this week would be a stinging repudiation of Bush's strategy to try to put down sectarian violence in Baghdad by bolstering troop levels, and Republicans struggled to discredit the importance of the measure.

Boehner denounced it "a political charade lacking both the seriousness and the gravity of the issue that it's meant to represent," even as he called the resolution "the first step toward abandoning Iraq."

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