WASHINGTON – House Republican leader John Boehner lashed out Wednesday at Democratic critics who accuse him of belittling the sacrifices of U.S. military personnel in comments he made during a television interview last week.
Democratic operatives say Boehner called U.S. troop deaths a "small price" to pay to win the war in Iraq. They are targeting Republican lawmakers who don't denounce the remarks, which Boehner says are being mischaracterized.
"For anyone to suggest that I am belittling our troops or belittling those who have lost their lives in Iraq is disgusting," Boehner said.
"The question that was asked concerned the dollar figures," Boehner continued. "The money really is a small price to pay when you look at the future security of our country."
Boehner, a strong supporter of President Bush and backer of Gen. David Petraeus' recommendation for continuing the war effort in Iraq, was asked on CNN on Sept. 12 about how much more U.S. taxpayers will have "to shell out" to pay for the war and how many more losses of American soldiers this country should endure.
Boehner, who just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, responded that reported successes in Iraq need to be solidified. He said the cost will be worth it if Iraq is stable.
"Long term, the investment that we’re making today will be a small price if we’re able to stop Al Qaeda here, if we’re able to stabilize the Middle East. It’s not only going to be a small price for the near future, but think about the future for our kids and their kids," he said.
Afterward Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a 2008 presidential candidate, called on Boehner to retract his comments but said the remarks hardly compare to a recent MoveOn.org ad in The New York Times that says Petraeus had betrayed the U.S.
"He misspoke. With all due respect, every American wounded or sacrificed is the greatest possible price to pay," McCain told Time magazine, adding that all Americans should be grateful, "particularly those of us who sit in relative safety while those young men and women are fighting."
Boehner said his comments were taken out of context.
"This is another political stunt where the someone takes my comments out of context to raise money for a political party. The same people who have done everything they could humanely do to ensure that we have failure in Iraq."
Asked if the human toll to America was a "small price," Boehner said: "We've paid a big price."
But Democrats including 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry, party chairman Howard Dean and the DCCC led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen continue to condemn the minority leader, and the latter has targeted at least 35 Republicans, calling on them to distance themselves from Boehner.
Republican House members continue "to silently stand by condoning (their) leader’s outrageous comments minimizing troops and their families’ tragic loss. America's men and women in uniform and their families deserve better," said Jennifer Crider, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Republican Leader Boehner’s belittling of the sacrifice of more than 30,000 brave Americans killed or injured in Iraq as a ‘small price’ is reprehensible – John McCain understands that, why can’t Rep. Jon Porter?" Crider asks in a sample press release being sent out to lawmakers' districts.
Trying to turn the tables on the criticism, Boehner knocked Senate Democrats for abandoning earlier attempts at a bipartisan Iraq strategy and pursuing hard withdrawal deadlines as a means of increasing political pressure on wavering Senate Republicans.
"It's a very big shift from what we heard over the last couple of weeks," Boehner said. "It's just another example of their commitment to the hard left, the most liberal people in America who want to precipitously withdraw our troops and ensure that we have failure. They have invested all of their political capital in failure in Iraq."
Numerous polls show a majority of Americans support removing a sizable number of combat troops from Iraq within a year. Democrats have boasted they will gain seats in the House and Senate next year due to voter anger over Republican support for President Bush's Iraq policy.
Boehner said he was prepared to risk House Republican seats next year in defense of the current military strategy in Iraq.
"I've said it once and I'll say it again. There are some things that are more important than the next election. Doing what is right for the future our kids and grandkids is a lot more important than what happens in the next election."
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.