LAS VEGAS – Protesters on both sides of the Iraq war debate rallied Thursday outside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's district office, where Reid supporters waved American flags and his opponents gathered around a trained monkey dressed in fatigues and holding a white flag.
"That's what they are — cheese-eating surrender monkeys," said Steven Saul, a conservative talk show host in Las Vegas, referring to a label for Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., popular with conservative pundits.
The protest of about a dozen people and a "surrender monkey" named Hobo was organized by the Sacramento-based Move America Forward, a group of military families and administration supporters dedicated to countering anti-war activism.
Democrats also gathered outside Reid's office at the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas to defend congressional Democrats' attempts to impose restrictions on the war as part of a military funding bill. The Nevada senator was in Washington, D.C.
Christopher Gallagher, who spent 18 months in Iraq serving in the Marines, said Democrats ought to be given a chance to change the course of a war that has been mismanaged.
"I think Harry Reid has the troops' best interest in mind," Gallagher, 24, said. "I'm not saying we need to pull out. I'm just saying we need to look at things differently and readjust the situation."
The rallies came as Reid and White House aides met in Washington to try to avoid a showdown over the war funding bill. Both sides have said they're searching for compromise. Reid said Thursday that he did not intend to give the White House "a blank check."
Debbie Lee, whose son was a Navy Seal killed in Ramadi last year, said Democrats' attempts to affect war policy amounted to football players refusing to follow their coach.
"The players don't go, 'wait a minute, we don't want to do what the coach says, we want to go call our own plays,"' Lee said. "Then you've got so much division, things start to fall apart. There's no way you can win anything when that's going on."
Move America Forward executive director Robert Dixon said the group planned similar protests Thursday outside Pelosi's district office in San Francisco and Reid's office in Carson City, Nev. It also plans to air a television ad on cable networks in both states, Dixon said.
The ad, entitled "Surrender is not an option," says Reid insulted troops when he described the war as "lost."
Move America Forward's use of a primate to draw media attention also drew criticism from the Humane Society.
"It's a shame that Move America Forward is exploiting animals to score political points," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement. "Bringing monkeys into a crowded situation — especially in 97 degree heat — is potentially dangerous for the animals as well as the public."
The monkey was provided and handled by Hope Knaust, who described herself as a professional animal trainer from Terrell, Texas. Knaust said she was a supporter of the war effort but had no opinion on whether Reid was advocating surrender.
"I don't know who he is," she said.