WASHINGTON – A city draped in red, white and blue got an injection of purple Wednesday evening.
Lawmakers came to President Bush's State of the Union address (search) with purple suits, ties and ink-stained fingers to celebrate last Sunday's Iraqi elections, in which voters had their index fingers dipped in purple ink to prevent multiple voting.
Several women, including newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search), traded their red suits for violet. Purple ties punctuated the mostly conservative sea of red and blue.
Raising a finger at America's elected leaders, Iraqi human rights activist Safia Taleb al-Suhail (search) waved to show that she had voted three days earlier. Her father had been assassinated 11 years ago by Saddam Hussein's intelligence service. Now she sat in the House chamber as the guest of First Lady Laura Bush.
Al-Suhail gave a long hug to Janet Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, whose son was killed in Iraq. Bush said Marine Corps Sgt. Byron Norwood had told his mother before he left, "Now it's my turn to protect you." The emotional embrace prompted the longest applause of the evening.
When Mrs. Norwood let go, she took her husband William's arm and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders and our military families," Bush said.
The wave of purple fingers, raised by dozens of House Republicans, was organized by Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., to demonstrate solidarity with Iraqi voters. In a letter to fellow lawmakers, Jindal said he wanted to display support for "people throughout the world who seek freedom."
Even as they celebrated the vote, a few Democrats questioned the price paid by American soldiers to win Iraq's freedom.
"We all applaud the Iraqi people for their elections, but Americans want to know if all that death and destruction was necessary to bring about elections or if there could have been free elections — as the Palestinians had — without such costs?" asked Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Democrats, in their televised response to the State of the Union, called for a less dramatic Iraqi election next time.
"The next elections in Iraq, scheduled for December, can be held in a more secure atmosphere, with broader participation and a much smaller American presence," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.