12 Republicans Break Ranks on Iraq Resolution
By JEFF ZELENY
Published: February 15, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 — A dozen Republicans arrived in the House chamber on
Wednesday to set aside their party allegiances and lend their names to a
resolution intended to rebuke President Bush for his Iraq policy.
Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina said that Iraqis had their
chance at freedom, but chose civil war. Representative Steven C. LaTourette
of Ohio argued that troop buildup was a tactic that had already failed. And
Representative John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee suggested that military
contractors had profited mightily at the expense of the American treasury.
As they spoke in the capital on the second day of an extensive debate over
the Iraq war, Mr. Bush called a White House news conference to defend his
plan to send more troops to Baghdad. He said that there would be more
violence, but that the plan would provide breathing space to the Iraqi
government as it worked to stabilize the country.
“They have every right to express their opinion,” Mr. Bush said of the
debate in Congress. Yet he warned lawmakers against taking additional steps
to limit war financing when they considered his military budget request next
month, saying, “They need to fund our troops.”
Democratic leaders, even as they condemn the president’s Iraq strategy, have
vowed not to cut financing for the troops already in Iraq. But pressure is
increasing inside the party for more scrutiny on war spending when the
administration’s military budget request is considered by Congress next
The proceedings on Capitol Hill foreshadowed challenges to come in both
parties as Republicans seek to persuade fiscal conservatives to invest more
money in the war and as Democrats determine whether they intend to take a
stand to limit financing of the war.
“I insist that we do not maintain an eternal presence in Iraq,” Mr. Coble
said, “if for no other reason than the cost to taxpayers, which has been
Congressional debate this week is largely revolving around a resolution
intended to express support for troops and oppose the president’s plan to
expand the military operation in Iraq. Even though most Republicans oppose
the proposal, the testimony from a handful of Republicans on Wednesday
suggested that the deliberations were no longer unfolding along partisan
Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina opened the debate on
Wednesday by reading a newspaper clipping from before Mr. Bush was elected.
It was 1999, and the topic was a Congressional debate over military
escalation in Bosnia, which Republicans sought to quash by sending a
nonbinding resolution to President Clinton.
Holding a sheet of paper, Mr. Jones quoted Karen Hughes, a chief adviser to
Mr. Bush, who declared, “If we’re going to commit more troops, we want to be
sure they have a clear exit strategy.” The message, Mr. Jones argued, could
apply to the current Iraq debate.
For a time on Wednesday, an unusual scene played out on the House floor,
with some Republicans coming forward one by one to speak against the Iraq
policy while fellow party members argued against them.
“We need to tell all these defense contractors that the time for this Iraqi
gravy train, with their obscene profits, is over,” said Mr. Duncan, the
congressman from Tennessee. “It is certainly no criticism of our troops to
say that this was a very unnecessary war. This war went against every
conservative position I have ever known.”
Representative Ric Keller, a Florida Republican who said he was simply
passing along common-sense advice from his constituents, compared the Iraqi
government to an ungrateful next-door neighbor.
“Imagine your next-door neighbor refuses to mow his lawn and the weeds are
all the way up to his waist, so you decide you’re going to mow his lawn for
him every single week,” Mr. Keller said. “The neighbor never says thank you,
he hates you and sometimes he takes out a gun and shoots you. Under these
circumstances, do you keep mowing his lawn for ever?
“Do you send even more of your family members over to mow his lawn?” he
added. “Or do you say to that neighbor, you better step it up and mow your
own lawn or there’s going to be serious consequences for you.”
A majority of House Republicans have assertively defended the administration
during the Iraq debate, accusing their Democratic rivals of being a weak
link in the fight against terrorism. Those accusations seemed to soften a
bit on Wednesday, when suddenly the person on the other side of the argument
was another Republican.
Representative Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, said she opposed the
troop increase in Iraq but declined to support the resolution. She
infuriated Democrats when she hinted that their party was considering plans
to limit war financing.
“What about the five brigades of young Americans who are now preparing their
families and packing their gear to deploy?” Ms. Wilson said. “What about
them? What are you saying to them? Will we buy body armor for them? Will we
have armored Humvees for them?”
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic majority leader,
rushed to the House chamber and delivered a sharp rebuttal to Ms. Wilson.
“If the commander in chief has sent them there, we will support them,” he
The House is scheduled to conclude the debate Friday. The Senate intends to
consider a similar resolution when it returns from next week’s Congressional
recess. Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of
Maine urged Senate leaders late Wednesday to cancel the recess so the Iraq
debate could proceed.
Earlier this month, when the Senate had intended to take up an Iraq
resolution, a procedural and political stalemate stymied debate. As
deliberations stretched on into the night, the themes of the debate carried
a familiar ring as each member of Congress was given at least five minutes
to speak. Nearly every Democratic speaker rose to assail Mr. Bush, while
Republicans came to his aid. Even Mr. Coble, who delivered one of the day’s
most stinging assessments of the administration’s Iraq policy, said he liked
“Some Americans — and some in this body — oppose the Iraqi operation because
they dislike President Bush,” Mr. Coble said. “I, however, do not march to
that drum. I am personally very high on President Bush, but on the matter of
troop escalation, I am not in agreement.”