WASHINGTON – The Republican-controlled House spurned calls for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq in a vote hastily arranged by the GOP that Democrats vociferously denounced as politically motivated.
"To cut and run would invite terrorism into our backyards, and no one wants to see troops fighting terrorism on American soil," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Friday night after the House, as planned, rejected a GOP-written resolution for immediate withdrawal. The vote, held as lawmakers rushed toward a two-week Thanksgiving break, was 403-3.
Democrats accused Republicans of orchestrating a political stunt that prohibited thoughtful debate on the issue, and nearly all voted against the measure.
That included Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the Democratic hawk whose call Thursday for pulling out troops set off a nasty, personal debate over the war.
"Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on our present course," Murtha said. He said the GOP resolution was not the thoughtful approach he had suggested to bring the troops safely home in six months.
The House action came in a week that also saw the GOP-controlled Senate defeat a Democratic push for President Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Instead, senators approved a statement that 2006 should be a significant year in which conditions are created for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"Congress in strong, bipartisan fashion rejected the call to cut and run," White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with Bush in Asia, said a statement. Earlier Friday, the president called an immediate troop withdrawal "a recipe for disaster."
Murtha, a Marine veteran decorated for combat service in Vietnam and widely respected among his peers, issued his call for a troop withdrawal at a news conference Thursday. In little more than 24 hours, Hastert and Republicans decided to put the question to the House.
Republicans hoped to place Democrats in an unappealing position — either supporting a withdrawal that critics said would be precipitous or opposing it and angering voters who want an end to the conflict. They also hoped the vote could restore GOP momentum on an issue — the war — that has seen plummeting public support in recent weeks.
Democrats said it was a sham and quickly decided to vote against the resolution in an attempt to drain it of significance.
"A disgrace," declared House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The rankest of politics and the absence of any sense of shame," added Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat.
At one point in the emotional debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.
"He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran and ranking Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee.
Democrats booed and shouted her down — causing the House to come to a standstill.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making uncalled-for personal attacks. "You guys are pathetic! Pathetic!" yelled Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass.
Democrats gave Murtha a standing ovation as he entered the chamber and took his customary corner seat.
Murtha has proposed his own resolution that would force the president to withdraw the nearly 160,000 troops in Iraq "at the earliest practicable date." It would establish a quick-reaction force and a nearby presence of Marines in the region. It also said the U.S. must pursue stability in Iraq through diplomacy.
The Republican alternative: "It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the resolution vote was not a stunt. "This is not an attack on an individual. This is a legitimate question," he said.
Three Democrats, Jose Serrano of New York, Robert Wexler of Florida and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, voted for withdrawal. Six voted present: Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington; Jerrold Nadler, Maurice Hinchey and Major Owens of New York; Michael Capuano of Massachusetts and William Lacy Clay of Missouri.