War Debate Keeps the House's Only Iraq Veteran Front and Center

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) returned from Iraq on Monday after his first trip there since he was traveling on the Army's dime.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) returned from Iraq on Monday after his first trip there since he was traveling on the Army's dime. (Courtesy Of Patrick Murphy)
By Lois Romano
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Fresh-faced and young, Patrick Murphy normally would have fallen into the category of unknown freshman legislator elbowing to make a name for himself.

But attracting attention has been no problem for Murphy.

The Pennsylvania Democrat happens to be the only member of Congress who is a veteran of the war in Iraq, a distinction that has swiftly catapulted him to Washington's front lines of politics and policy with little effort.

Senior members turn to the 33-year-old for policy guidance. Generals are eager to brief him one-on-one. Murphy delivers moving speeches on the floor about the 19 paratroopers he served with who died in Iraq. And he stood shoulder to shoulder with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference, emotionally talking about flawed U.S. policy.

"Sometimes I feel like the weight of the United States military in Iraq is on my shoulders," Murphy said in an interview in his office this week. "I really have to push myself to focus on my district, this is so consuming."

On Monday, he returned from his first trip back to the Iraq since his 2003-2004 tour, and he said he found conditions there painfully similar or worse. "It feels like Groundhog Day all over again there," he said. "Before it was like, 'It'll take time, it'll take time.' Well, now we're four years later and everyone was unanimous: We need a political and economic solution, and all we have is a military solution."

Murphy was among a dozen veterans of the Iraq war who ran for Congress last year, but only he won a seat. Murphy, a captain, was a paratrooper with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He has co-sponsored legislation calling for a 12-month timeline for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq and allowing for some troops to remain to provide basic force protection and training of Iraqis.

He said he repeatedly heard from officers and soldiers that the United States isn't doing enough to get the Iraqis to step up and assume more responsibility for their country's defense and for combating insurgents.

"I asked one of my former students what's going on, and he said, 'Sir, if the Iraqis don't get off the sidelines, we'll be here forever,' " Murphy said. "They are frustrated because they know what it takes to win there. We are not putting appropriate pressure on the Iraqis."

Asked whether any of the troops were skeptical of him because of his stance on the war, he said those he encountered were nothing but encouraging.

"I'm not necessarily antiwar. I'm anti-failure," he said. "There's a difference."

Lose a Member, Gain $5 Million?

There's much chatter in the House halls these days about the possible departure of Rep. Marty Meehan, an eight-term Massachusetts Democrat who is on a list of three finalists to become chancellor of his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

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