By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007
From the moderate suburbs of Delaware to the rural, conservative valleys of eastern Tennessee, House Republican opponents of President Bush's latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum.
Numbering a dozen or more, these House Republicans have emerged as some of the most prominent opponents of the plan to increase troop presence in Iraq. They admit to being a ragtag band, with no scheduled meetings and little political cohesion.
"We aren't organized at all," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), whose district includes suburbs of the Twin Cities. "It's about as diverse a group as is possible."
Borrowing time from House Democrats, these Republicans have gone to the floor to condemn the latest attempt at stabilizing Iraq, which they see as mired in civil war, and have vowed to support a Democratic-driven resolution condemning the buildup.
The conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill has been that those Republicans facing the most tenuous political hold on their seats would be in open revolt against Bush's unpopular decision to send more troops into Iraq. But the lion's share of GOP opponents of the Bush plan come from comfortable to very safe congressional districts.
Of the first 13 Republicans identified as supporters of the resolution, only three received less than 55 percent of the vote in winning reelection last year -- Reps. Ric Keller (Fla.), Phil English (Pa.) and James T. Walsh (N.Y.). A handful of other GOP supporters received 65 percent or more of the vote last November, placing them among the safest batch of incumbents in the House.
"This is a matter of conscience -- not just your conscience but the conscience of your district," said Rep. Walter B. Jones (N.C.), who has become an unofficial leader among the antiwar Republicans, along with the Eastern Shore's Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.).
Jones won reelection last year with 69 percent of the vote in a district that gave just 32 percent of its vote to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election. He and others predict that 30 to 50 Republicans will vote against the troop increase.
Republican leadership aides expect the bulk of those votes to come from incumbents sitting in marginal districts, or those from the moderate wing of the party.
But these same aides pointed Thursday to a number of Republicans who barely survived the 2006 Democratic wave but have opposed the resolution.
Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who won by less than 7,000 votes, and Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), who won by less than 2,000 votes, both announced Wednesday that they would oppose the Democratic resolution, condemning it as nothing more than "symbolic."
"The majority is clear on what it is against, but does not say what it is for, leaving us with what exists right now, the status quo," Shays said on the floor. "The resolution sends the wrong message to the president, to our troops and to our enemies. It will not get my vote."
The range of Republican opponents to the war can be seen in Reps. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) and Michael N. Castle (R-Del.).
Duncan, from eastern Tennessee, is widely regarded as a solid conservative. Castle, from the Wilmington area, is one of only two publicly declared antiwar Republicans whose districts tilted toward Kerry in 2004. Both he and Duncan are safe politically: Duncan received 78 percent of the vote last year, and Castle, a former two-term governor, won with 57 percent.
Yet Duncan was among the six Republicans who originally opposed the war in 2002, while Castle gave it his full support. Today, they'll both be opposing the troop buildup.
"Conservatives have traditionally been the strongest opponents to interventionist foreign policies that create so much resentment for us around the world," Duncan said Wednesday.
"Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of our military personnel," Castle said, "the Iraqi government has been unable to overcome the constant instability and sectarian violence that has marked much of the last four years."