The Anti-War Liberal | Jan Schakowsky

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (Michel Du Cille - Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Before the Oct. 10, 2002, House vote to authorize the war, with the Democratic leadership prepared to support President Bush, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and other liberals formed an opposition movement. Quietly, they went from lawmaker to lawmaker "asking people how they would vote, and if they were unsure, convincing them that they would be far from alone if they vote no." In the final tally, 126 Democrats, or about 60 percent of the caucus, sided with Schakowsky.

Three years later, Schakowsky helped found the Out of Iraq Caucus, which has grown to about 75 members. But when Democrats won control of Congress, her longtime friend and fellow liberal Nancy Pelosi of California became speaker, and Schakowsky was named a chief deputy whip, a crucial vote-counting post. From her new perch in leadership, the war debate has become more complicated than a simple rallying call.

Representing a liberal North Side district in Chicago, Schakowsky would face enormous anger from her constituents if she tempered her opposition to the war. But she is confronting both the limits and duties of majority power, and that has created friction with her antiwar allies.

"If we could pass it, I would stop this war today," she said. "But there aren't the votes to do that."

Angering war opponents, Schakowsky supported the first Iraq spending bill, later vetoed by Bush, although it continued to fund the troops and set no firm withdrawal date. She opposed the bill in its second version, which provided funding with no withdrawal terms.

"As far as the American people are concerned, they're done; they are done with this war. But it's really taken all this time to get there," Schakowsky said.

Toughest Encounter With Constituents: Before she announced her support for the first Iraq funding bill, Schakowsky convened local antiwar activists to break the news. "We had a very frank conversation. Not everyone was satisfied," Schakowsky recalled. But she told the group, "I really want to end this thing, and I think this is the best way to go."

Iraq-Related Claim to Fame: The stacks and stacks of e-mails opposing the war that Schakowsky started gathering before the 2002 vote. "I started going everywhere with them. Eventually, I had to have staff carry them along for me, because there were so many. We'd go to the floor, go to news conferences. It was a kind of a great visual."

Visits to Iraq: She is making her first trip in August.

Outlook: "There is decreasingly any way to defend this war and keeping our troops there. It's just not that far way. There's no way it's going to be good."

Most Persuasive Argument From War Supporters: "If you're not for the money, you're not for the troops."

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