WASHINGTON — Rep. Pete Stark apologized Tuesday for saying last week that the White House was sending young Americans to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
Stark's apology, on the House floor, came after Republicans failed to win a vote censuring the Democrat from Fremont for "despicable conduct." The vote was 196 to 173 to kill the measure, with 168 Republicans and five Democrats supporting censure.
"I hope that with this apology I will become as insignificant as I should be," Stark said.
He directed his apology to his colleagues, "the president and his family" and U.S. troops.
The 17-term congressman from California's 13th District made his comments during a debate Thursday over President Bush's veto of a $35-billion increase in a program to provide health insurance to children.
"You don't have money to fund the war or children," Stark said. "But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D- Alamo), presiding over the House floor at the time, cautioned Stark to refrain. But she denied a GOP motion barring him from the floor for the rest of the day's debate.
Republicans condemned the remarks. A video clip of Stark's comments posted Friday on YouTube had been viewed about 300,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon.
Initially, Stark refused to apologize. He issued a statement the same day, calling opponents of children's health insurance cowards.
"I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best," Stark said in the statement. "But I respect neither the commander in chief who keeps them in harm's way nor the chicken-hawks in Congress who vote to deny children healthcare."
As public pressure built, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) weighed in Friday, saying that although the debate on children's healthcare was "heated on both sides," what Stark said was "inappropriate and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand -- providing healthcare for America's children."
The move to censure Stark marked the second time Republicans have taken to the House floor to call attention to words they deemed offensive to the U.S. military. The first was over a MoveOn.org ad referring to Gen. David H. Petraeus as "General Betray Us." On that 341-79 vote, most Democrats joined in the condemnation.