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Rhetoric Flies as House Tackles Iraq Debate


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Congress is back to debating today a non-binding resolution opposing the president's increase in troops levels in Iraq. Yesterday, Democrats denounced the surge in troop levels and what they call the Bush administration's failed policies in that country. Republicans argued there was little choice but to finish what had been started.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Democrats won control of Congress last November in large part because of voters' disenchantment with the war in Iraq. Now, Democrats hope to begin a process to end that war, the non-binding resolution is the first step. It expresses support for the troops is Iraq while opposing sending any more.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the American people have lost faith in President Bush's course of action.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): In light of the facts, President Bush's escalation proposal will not make America safer, will not make our military stronger, and will not make the region more stable. And it will not have my support.

NAYLOR: Republicans attempted to frame the debate in starkly different terms. A dear colleagues memo sent by two GOP lawmakers urged Republicans not to defend the surge but to broaden the debate and address the threat posed by radical Islamists. Here's House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The battle in Iraq is about more than what happens there. This is one part of a much larger fight, a global fight against Islamic terrorists who have waged war on the United States and our allies.

NAYLOR: Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia said the debate over the resolution was harmful to U.S. forces now fighting in Iraq.

Representative JACK KINGSTON (Republican, Georgia): I will say this, that if the troops in Baghdad watched what Congress was doing today, they would be outraged. Fortunately for us and the free world, they don't sit around and watch C-SPAN and what silly politicians do.

NAYLOR: And Arizona Republican John Shadegg said while every American wants the troops home, it wasn't that easy.

Representative JOHN SHADEGG (Republican, Arizona): When you are at war, and when the United States Congress acts with regard to that war, it is not non-binding. The world is watching. The world is watching every word that is said on this floor. I believe we have a moral duty to finish what we began.

NAYLOR: At times, the debates sounded like a high school history lecture. Lawmakers quoted Winston Churchill and General Douglas McArthur. Members of Congress cited their service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Freshman Democrat Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania had the most recent military experience to draw on, having served as a member of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq.

Representative PATRICK MURPHY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Walking in my own combat boots, I saw firsthand this administration's failed policy in Iraq. I led convoys up and down Ambush Alley in a Humvee without doors. Convoys that Americans still run today because too many Iraqis are still sitting on the sidelines.

NAYLOR: Democrats say the resolution being debated this week is just the beginning. While its non-binding lawmakers are gearing up for a battle next month over the president's $100 billion supplemental budget request for Iraq, in which Democrats are planning to attach conditions on how the money can be spent. California Democrat Lynn Woolsey is a member of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

Representative LYNN WOOLSEY (Democrat, California): I hope that an overwhelming vote in favor of this resolution will compel the president to rethink his Iraq policy. But if not, this body will have no choice but to take further steps. Ultimately, we must do more than send the message; we must send a convoy of military planes to bring our troops home.

NAYLOR: The measure is expected to be approved on Friday with significant bipartisan support. In the Senate, where debate on Iraq resolutions has been tied up by procedural wrangling, Majority Leader Harry Reid says he hopes to bring up the House language later this month.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear more highlights and analysis of the House's debate on Iraq at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Naylor
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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