Four Congressmen Take Heat for Iraq Visit -- but Not Among Constituents

They have been called dupes of Saddam Hussein, at best. Their harsher critics have called them traitors.

But in their home districts, four Democratic members of the House appear to be suffering little political fallout from their visits to Iraq.

Reps. Jim McDermott of Seattle, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California were due to return Tuesday night after a visit organized by Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia was in Iraq earlier in a trip was sponsored by the San Francisco-based Institute for Public Accuracy, a consortium of policy researchers.

Two weeks ago, McDermott won 77 percent of the vote in the state's open primary from his liberal Seattle constituency. After the visit to Baghdad, columnist George Will called him a "useful idiot" for Saddam.

George Dignan, 58, of Seattle, said he applauded McDermott's willingness to take an unpopular stand: "I appreciate a politician who will act on his convictions rather than what the opinion polls tell him to do."

McDermott, who opposes U.S. military intervention in Iraq, said he wanted to see for himself the likely consequences of a U.S. military campaign to oust Saddam and to urge Iraq to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors. The congressman also has questioned the war in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration is trying to persuade Congress and the United Nations to authorize the use of military force to oust Saddam, saying the Iraqi leader is stockpiling biological and chemical weapons and trying to obtain nuclear bombs in violation of U.N. resolutions.

McDermott was sharply criticized by Republicans after he suggested the president might be misleading the American people about the need for military action.

Speaking from Baghdad, McDermott and Bonior said Iraqi officials assured them that they will allow weapons inspectors full access.

The Senate's second-ranking Republican, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, said the Democrats "sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government."

In Macomb County, north of Detroit, some Bonior constituents said they did not oppose the visit but questioned its effectiveness.

"I don't really agree with him," said Debra Skrinner, 40. "I think we should go ahead and bomb Iraq because we've had nothing but problems with Hussein." Of Bonior, she said, "I think he's trying to do his job."

In Thompson's district, which stretches from the San Francisco suburbs to the Oregon state line, some of those interviewed said they thought the visit would help the Iraqi people.

"There are a lot of people suffering over there. It's good to try to help them," said Stephene Cardoza of Eureka, Calif.

Others were less sure.

Mike Anderson, owner of a logging company in the Northern California town of Fort Bragg, said of the Democrats' visit: "I frankly just thought it was comical. Four know-nothings going over there to put on a show."