By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2007
With Republicans speaking out against President Bush's war policy on the House floor yesterday, GOP leaders and the White House conceded defeat on a resolution opposing sending additional U.S. troops to Iraq and began looking toward the coming battle over the war's funding.
On the second day of a four-day showdown over the nonbinding resolution, Democrats looked on as Republican dissidents denounced what they called Bush's ill-conceived plan to put 21,500 more combat troops in the middle of a sectarian civil war.
Some of the 11 Republicans who publicly broke with Bush were long-time opponents of the war, such as Reps. Walter B. Jones (N.C.) and Ron Paul (Tex.). But others, such as Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.) and Jim Ramstad (Minn.), had never sought the limelight and were almost apologetic in their speeches.
Rep. Ric Keller (Fla.), a reliable conservative vote, prefaced his statement with an affirmation of support for Bush personally. But, he said, a "surge" of troops had already been attempted in Baghdad. "The benefits were temporary," he said. "The body bags were permanent."
Those 11 could be just the tip of the iceberg. One Republican lawmaker close to the leadership, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said GOP leaders have 50 to 60 Republicans on their watch list, with between 40 and 60 expected to break with the White House tomorrow.
Even the president conceded yesterday that the House will deliver a bipartisan rebuke tomorrow, when it votes on a resolution opposing the deployment of additional troops to Iraq, while affirming Congress's support for "the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq." But, he warned, Congress must not meddle with the funds needed to support those troops.
"I think you can be against my decision and support the troops, absolutely. But the proof will be whether or not you provide them the money necessary to do the mission," he said at a White House news conference.
Republicans think the funding debate will unite their party and expose deep fissures among the Democrats, some of whom want immediate action to deny funding to the war effort. But Democratic leaders have rallied around a strategy that would fully fund the president's $100 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but would limit his ability to use the money.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, will formally outline the Democrats' plan today to antiwar groups agitating for binding action against the war. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a subcommittee member who helped arrange the Internet event, said the plan is aimed at tamping down calls from the Democrats' liberal wing for Congress to simply end funding for the war.
The Murtha plan, based on existing military guidelines, includes a stipulation that Army troops who have already served in Iraq must be granted two years at home before an additional deployment, Marines must be given 14 months at home, and any troops sent to Iraq must be those deemed fully trained and equipped under existing military standards. The idea is to slowly choke off the war by stopping the deployment of troops from units that have been badly degraded by four years of combat.
"They won't be able to deploy troops unless they extend troops overseas. And if we limit the extension, then it'll be very difficult for them to continue this surge, which the American people are against and the Iraqis don't want," Murtha said yesterday on National Public Radio.
The Democrats also intend to shut down the military prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad by denying them funds, and to bar funds that would be used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.
That is a fight Republicans appear to relish. Republicans continued to argue yesterday that the Democrats' nonbinding resolution would demoralize U.S. troops and embolden the enemy, and virtually every Republican speaking against the resolution added a warning that Democrats intend to "defund" the war.
"There is going to be a real battle some time in March over defunding our troops that are in harm's way or somehow shackling the military's ability to fight," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
When Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) charged that the resolution offers no support for troops not yet deployed to the battlefield, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) showed just how sensitive Democrats are to the charge.
"No one ought to hide behind the troops. 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," Hoyer said angrily. "Whether it is today or tomorrow, they will have our support."
Republicans have been less successful at ruffling Democratic feathers over the issue at hand -- the deployment of additional troops. Republican leaders have put up an energetic rapid-response center to try to debunk Democratic arguments against Bush's war plan. Rank-and-file Republicans have met with national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, as well as representatives from the embassies of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But GOP efforts to hold their lawmakers off the Democratic resolution appeared to falter yesterday.
As Bush conducted his news conference, the House floor was turning into a fratricidal showdown in a split-screen visual that even Republicans had to admire. "It was a good strategic move," one GOP lawmaker said.
"The resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq that we passed in fall of 2002 was never intended to authorize the use of American troops to police a civil war," Ramstad said.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) lamented that "these are purely political statements, and the debate we should be having is the most apolitical subject of all -- national security in a time of peril." He then announced that he will vote for the resolution.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) threatened to block a planned week-long recess unless Democratic and Republican leaders first agree on terms for bringing to a vote a bipartisan resolution opposing the troop buildup.