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Bin Laden's Aftershocks

Usama bin Laden is long dead. But the aftershocks are still jolting Capitol Hill more than a week later in what could mark the start of a significant recalibration in the war on terrorism.

A series of secondary and tertiary bin Laden narratives spilled out of Congress over the past week, all different tributaries, winding through the Capitol's nooks and crannies. Like it or not, Osama bin Laden cast a long shadow. And the aftermath of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan provides lawmakers with plenty of fodder to mull over, temporarily superseding debates over raising the debt ceiling or how the Republicans might alter Medicare.

One offshoot of the bin Laden story dealt with photographs. And even that discussion spanned into additional channels.

The first question is whether the Obama Administration should release the grisly pictures of bin Laden's bullet-riddled body.

The White House decided against it, concerned that such a publication could be viewed as "spiking the ball." Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are torn.

"I support the decision by the president that they (the pictures) should not be released. I think they have made a responsible decision and I support it," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). "I have no doubts that bin Laden is dead."

But not everyone feels that way. Calls have flooded the phone lines of multiple Congressional offices, demanding that their lawmakers push to release the pictures. Some insist they need proof that Navy SEALs truly took out bin Laden.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) is the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee. He hasn't seen the photos and doesn't think they should be released.

"There are doubters every day. Look at what happened in Florida," said Ruppersberger, invoking the specter of Pastor Terry Jones and his efforts to burn Korans last year. "I'm concerned about creating martyrism."

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is one of two Muslims in the House. He says the president may have decided to withhold the pictures because they could "shed more heat than light." But Ellison said photographic evidence won't quash this argument.

"The fact is that some people are never going to be satisfied with what they see," he said.

Then there's the issue of whether lawmakers saw the authentic photos of bin Laden.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence panel, announced that he viewed a photograph that he believed was real. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Scott Brown (R-MA) later backpedaled from their assertions they saw a bin Laden picture. Ayotte and Brown then conceded the photo they saw wasn't genuine.

It appears that only House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) eyed a credible picture of bin Laden. Rogers saw the photo during a visit to the CIA with freshmen lawmakers last week.

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To honor or not to honor, that is the question.

Last week, the Senate voted 97-0 to commend the SEALs and America's intelligence apparatus for killing bin Laden. The resolution said the SEALs extracted a "measure of justice" by killing the world's most-hunted man.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) augmented the importance of the vote by requiring senators to vote from their desks. Senators typically only vote from their desks on major bills or Supreme Court appointments. In fact, it marked the first time senators cast their votes from their desks this year.

But it remains unclear whether the House will consider a similar bill saluting the military and intelligence operatives.

Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY) introduced a resolution expressing "the gratitude of the House of Representatives to those involved for avenging the Americans who died on 9/11."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who famously crafted a resolution in 2009 to honor the late Michael Jackson that went nowhere, authored a resolution "commending President Barack Obama, the Joint Special Operations Command and intelligence agencies for the successful completion of the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden."

Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI) also crafted a resolution, but set a distinctly different tone.

"This resolution does not revel in the death of bin Laden the butcher," McCotter said. "This resolution hails the triumph of justice."

McCotter's resolution went on to salute the families who lost loved ones on 9-11.

Boehner isn't ruling out doing an honorary resolution in the House. But the House GOP leadership elected to stay away from honorary resolutions. In particular, the House Republican Conference bars resolutions that expresses "appreciation, commends, congratulates, celebrates, recognizes the accomplishments of, or celebrates the anniversary of, an entity, event, group or individual, institution, team or government program; or acknowledges or recognizes a period of time for such purposes."

It's no secret that many in Congress think previous resolutions to honor athletic teams or note cultural anniversaries were a waste of time.

"The House is committed to doing substantive resolutions," Boehner said. "And some commemorative resolutions are excessive. Some were quite meaningless."

So for now, only the Senate has honored those involved in killing bin Laden. And House action remains up in the air.

The most pressing question lawmakers face now is how did bin Laden live, as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) put it, right next to the "West Point of Pakistan" for five years?

And if you ever wondered how wildfires in Texas could impact relations with Pakistan, here's your answer.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) chairs the appropriations subcommittee charged with doling out foreign aid. Last week, Granger penned a missive to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying the potential bin Laden-Pakistan nexus disturbed her. Granger questioned how the U.S. could distribute $190 million in emergency relief to Pakistan after last year's devastating floods when the Obama Administration rejected federal assistance to Texas after wildfires charred 2.2 million acres in the Lone Star State.

The discovery of bin Laden so close to a major Pakistani military installation infuriated Granger.

"This reinforces my greater concerns that the (Pakistani) government may be incapable of distributing U.S. funds in a transparent manner that allows proper oversight," argued Granger.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is the top Democrat on Granger's panel. She describes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as "a rocky one." And like Granger, Lowey isn't willing to cough up additional aid to Pakistan until they get some questions answered.

"We need to re-evaluate the relationship (with Pakistan) and the kind of aid and how it's delivered before the final judgment is made," Lowey said.

For his part, Boehner was just in Pakistan meeting with government and military officials two weeks before the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden.

"I support continuing to work with Pakistan," Boehner said. "I think our aid should continue to Pakistan. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have a serious conversation with Pakistan."

It will be a few weeks before the House drafts and votes on the annual package that funds the State Department and foreign aid programs. Expect that measure to get special scrutiny this year, especially when lawmakers are looking to trim spending. Moreover, lawmakers with diplomatic, military or intelligence portfolios are walking a narrow line when it comes to Pakistan. They want to echo Boehner and raise critical questions about Islamabad. Yet they also don't want to injure crucial relationships with Pakistan that are necessary to fight terrorism.

Pakistan receives about $2 billion a year from the U.S. That's why Granger's focus on the $190 million in flood relief is interesting. An effort to target such a specific program, when at the same time, the Obama Administration isn't willing to free up emergency money for regions in Texas devastated by wildfires, could give the House an opening to slash some money for Pakistan, but not injure the relationship.

Pakistan isn't the only place overseas where Members of Congress fret about the U.S. commitment. Now that bin Laden's gone, some lawmakers from both parties wonder why the U.S. needs to stay in Afghanistan, the first theatre in the war on terrorism. That's where President George W. Bush dispatched the military just weeks after September 11th. It's where another elite band of U.S. special forces tracked bin Laden and lost him in the craggy mountains and crevices of Tora Bora.

Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) crafted a bill to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Many liberals in Congress have long questioned why the U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan. But some conservatives have questions too, including Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) and John Campbell (R-CA).

"Senior citizens are being told no more sandwiches for lunches. Children are being told no milk in the morning. Yet we're spending $8 billion a month to prop up a corrupt leader?" asked Jones. "Why send American men and women to get their legs blown off?"

On Monday, many of the supporters of the McGovern-Jones bill wrote to President Obama, asserting that the commitment in Afghanistan was stressing the budget and the military.

"It's time to bring the formal war in Afghanistan to an end as we adapt to the changing demands of a different kind of war," the letter read.

Nearly a decade on, Osama bin Laden's death serves as a milepost in the war on terrorism. But lawmakers will also use bin Laden's killing as flashpoint to reassess how the U.S. wages this battle.

"Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda. But it does not end there," said President Bush in his address to a Joint Session to Congress just after 9-11. "This war is going to take a while."

Ten years later, no one still knows how long. There will be no truce. No armistice. No white flag. No helicopter will dramatically depart from the roof of the embassy.

And in the wake of bin Laden's death, that means this war is due for a lot of recalibrations on Capitol Hill.

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