WASHINGTON – He’s been called the “Bozo of Baghdad” and an enemy collaborator by his political foes.
But Rep. Jim McDermott (search), an eight-term Democrat from Washington, says he has no plans to go away or to stop speaking his mind about what he says are bad administration policies at home and abroad.
“My constituents have been supportive of my efforts from very early on,” McDermott told Foxnews.com
McDermott, who represents the state's 7th Congressional District, was throttled by Republicans when he traveled to Iraq (search) in Sept. 2002 and told reporters while he was there that President Bush might mislead the public to justify a war.
While in Iraq during this tense pre-war period, he and fellow Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., also urged the Iraqis not to interfere with the weapons inspection process, and encouraged the Bush administration to give those inspections a chance before launching an attack.
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said they sounded like “spokespersons for the Iraqi government.” Critics off Capitol Hill were not as kind, calling the men traitors, unpatriotic and a disgrace.
But now that questions have been raised about the intelligence leading to the war, McDermott, who served stateside during the Vietnam War and the only certified psychiatrist in Congress, said it sounds like he was right on the money.
“I don’t take any pleasure in having been right,” McDermott said. “The problem in Vietnam was that the soldiers felt they were lied to by their government. The same is now true in Iraq. They were encouraged to go over there to defend the country and it turns out there was no imminent threat (search).”
Following testimony by former chief U.S weapons inspector David Kay (search) in January, Bush has appointed an independent commission to investigate how a breakdown in intelligence might have led the administration to believe there were more weapons of mass destruction (search) in Iraq before the war than current searches have revealed.
While both Kay and the administration maintain that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a dangerous threat to the United States, recent developments have emboldened critics of the war, like McDermott, who were against the invasion from the start.
“Bringing democracy to another country might be laudable, but when you have lost 500 soldiers and bring thousands back with injuries, it prays on (soldiers') minds why they were called up to do this,” he said. “Its not really clear why they are over there.”
McDermott's critics say not all Americans feel this way about the war, or about Bush’s policies.
“His views are definitely outside of the mainstream of America to say the least,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference. “I think that is evidenced by his extreme opposition to the war, in his trip to Iraq and questioning this president’s leadership on foreign soil.”
But beyond his critique of the war, McDermott said he is concerned whether society is ready to assist these soldiers when they return. As a lieutenant commander and chief psychiatrist at Long Beach Naval Station (search) from 1968 to 1970, McDermott said he’s seen the ravages of war firsthand.
“[Soldiers] have been through an absolute pressure cooker for whatever amount of time they’ve been out there. When you are dealing with guerrilla warfare, you’re dealing with a situation where you never feel safe, you can’t trust anybody,” he said. “That becomes terribly, terribly wearing on people as they go along. That’s why there is so much stuff for them to work through when they get back.”
Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wisc., who sits with McDermott on the House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledges that his friend has a knack for angering conservatives, but he admires McDermott’s willingness to stride into the fire with conviction.
“As Americans, in this democracy, when we think the government is doing something improper we have the right and the responsibility to stand up and say so,” Kleczka told Foxnews.com. “This guy’s a fighter, he’s not going to win any popularity contest, but when he feels strongly about an issue, he will go to the wall for it.”
Republicans note that McDermott got a lot of media attention for his trip to Iraq, as well as statements he made after the capture of Saddam Hussein (search) in December, when he suggested that the administration might have timed the capture for political expediency.
“You have to question whether he’s doing it because of what he believes, or whether he’s doing it to get his name in the paper,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “He’s gotten a lot of mileage and press coverage from being extreme and that seems to work for him.”
It certainly hasn’t hurt his popularity among voters, considering he hasn’t had a serious challenge from the GOP since he was elected in 1988, and currently is unopposed for re-election in November.
The 7th Congressional District in Washington covers the Seattle metropolitan area, and as Forti put is “one of the most liberal districts in the country,” populated with affluent professionals, activists and wealthy technology gurus, as well as blue-collar workers and retirees. It voted for Democrat Al Gore 72 percent over George Bush in 2000.
McDermott, whom Democrats in his home district of Seattle affectionately call “congressman for life,” is still encouraging the president to get the United Nations involved so that the United States can fulfill its promises to the Iraqis to help rebuild the nation and to get out as quickly as possible.
Aside from his anti-war positions, McDermott has primarily worked on health care issues in his 16-year tenure on Capitol Hill. Today, he is concerned about the job loss in his district, which has been hit hard by the relocation of the Boeing (search) aircraft headquarters to Chicago and the burst of the 1990s technology boom.
“[Washington] has had the highest unemployment, along with Oregon, of any other state,” McDermott said. “The middle class in my district are telling me if there is a big recovery, it's not happening in their neighborhood.”