YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


11 Republicans back Iraq rebuke

The lawmakers take to the House floor to show support, reflecting the rising anxiety within the GOP over the war.

February 15, 2007|Richard Simon and James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — In a striking display of dissension, a group of Republican lawmakers broke ranks with the White House on Wednesday and embraced a resolution opposing more U.S. troops in Iraq -- airing their criticism even as President Bush publicly defended his plan.

Bush questioned the message that expected House approval of the nonbinding resolution would send, saying at a news conference: "People are watching what happens here in America. The enemy listens to what's happening. The Iraqi people listen to the words.... They're wondering about our commitment to this cause."

Undaunted, 11 GOP lawmakers, including normally staunch Bush allies who represent districts he carried in his presidential campaigns, took to the House floor to express their support for a Democratic-sponsored resolution renouncing Bush's decision to add 21,500 troops to the roughly 135,000 already in Iraq.

The Republicans complained that the U.S. military finds itself in the middle of a civil war, that the Iraqis haven't done enough to make their country safe and that a "surge" in diplomacy -- not troops -- is needed.

"The Iraqis don't want us there," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). "We're viewed as part of the problem, not the solution."

Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) likened the U.S. mission in Iraq to dealing with a neighbor who refuses to mow his lawn.

"You mow his lawn for him every single week. The neighbor never says thank you, he hates you, and sometimes he takes out a gun and shoots at you," he said. "Under these circumstances, would you keep mowing his lawn forever?"

The House is scheduled to vote Friday on the resolution, which is likely to pass with virtually unanimous support from the chamber's 233 Democrats and backing from 20 to 30 -- and perhaps more -- of its 201 Republicans. What remains unclear is how many GOP war critics will get behind the next step in the debate -- Democratic efforts to go beyond symbolic opposition to Bush's pursuit of his Iraq policy.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) is set today to announce a strategy for imposing limits on Bush's ability to carry out the troop increase.

Murtha, chairman of the appropriations defense subcommittee, is expected to propose tying funding for the deployment to requiring that every unit sent to Iraq meet strict readiness standards of training and equipment -- standards often sidestepped now, at a time when the military has been stretched thin.

Murtha's proposal is aimed at countering Bush's build-up plan without exposing Democrats to accusations of undercutting troops in the field.

Also, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) served notice that the administration's request for an additional $93 billion to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would face tough scrutiny before his panel.

With the lion's share of the money slated for Iraq, Byrd said he feared the request "cements a policy of more of the same -- more hunkering down, more forcing our troops to stay pinned in the middle of a civil war."

Bush has made little effort to influence the House's consideration of its nonbinding resolution, saying he planned to ignore it. But at his White House news conference, the president made clear he would more aggressively fight efforts to stymie his troop-increase plan.

"People are prejudging the outcome" of the new strategy, he complained. And Bush said he hoped the House's symbolic measure would not "turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing what I have asked them to do."

As he has done continually in the face of growing U.S. discontent with the situation in Iraq, Bush warned that stepping back from the fight "would have disastrous consequences for our people in America."

"The Iraqi government would collapse; chaos would spread," he said. "There would be a vacuum. Into the vacuum would flow more extremists, more radicals, people who have stated intent to hurt our people."

But even as Bush spoke, the fractures within his own party over Iraq were spotlighted as the House engaged in a second, full day of debate on the resolution opposing his troop increase.

Unlike the first day, which featured Democrats pressing the case for the measure and Republicans decrying it, part of Wednesday's discussion featured GOP lawmakers arguing with one another. Although those lining up behind the measure represented a small fraction of the House's GOP caucus, their willingness to make their speeches reflected the rising anxiety within the party over the nearly 4-year-old war. It is a conflict that many GOP politicians single out as the main reason the party lost its majorities on Capitol Hill in November's election.

Nine of the 11 Republicans who criticized Bush's troop-buildup plan voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq; the two dissenters were Reps. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. of Tennessee and Ron Paul of Texas.

Los Angeles Times Articles