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By the Numbers: Day 2 of the Iraq Debate

The second full day of the House's Iraq debate actually didn't conclude until early this morning, with the final gavel closing Wednesday's session coming at 12:02 a.m. ET.

In a symbolic moment, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was in the speaker's chair for the final hour or so, meaning lawmakers referred to the first Islamic member of Congress as "Mr. Speaker" during a debate about the future of a war President Bush has dubbed an ideological battle against "Islamo-facism."

One interesting trend emerging so far is that the freshmen Democrats, given the honorific title of "majority makers" by their leadership, are marching in near lock-step against the president. Even those freshmen from the reddest of districts have come out in favor of the Democratic resolution opposing the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

Take Rep. Heath Shuler (D), whose western North Carolina district gave just 43 percent of its votes to John Kerry in 2004 and a paltry 40 percent to Al Gore in 2000.

Shuler ran last year against an entrenched Republican incumbent, promising to be a conservative Democratic voice in Congress, especially on cultural and military matters.

Shortly after 11 p.m. ET last night, Shuler took to the floor and delivered a scathing attack on Bush's handling of the war, calling it a "moral outrage to continue sending troops into harm's way without a plan for success." (Read all of Shuler's remarks at the end of this post.)

One thing to watch in today's debate is the Progressive Caucus. Members belonging to the most far-left wing of the Democratic caucus are slated to speak beginning around 6 p.m. ET. Keep an eye out for how far they go in their rhetoric. How many of them will take the Republican bait and call for Congress to slash funding for troops in combat?

OK, on to Day 2 of the debate, by the numbers:

30: The number of press releases e-mailed by the House Republican Conference attacking Democratic positions during the first two days of the debate, 20 on Tuesday, 10 more on Wednesday.

3: The number of releases the GOP conference had e-mailed out attacking Democrats so far this morning, according to Capitol Briefing's Outlook system as of 11:19 a.m. ET.

239: The number of members of the House who have NOT spoken for or against the Iraq resolution in the first two days of debate; 91 spoke out Tuesday, 104 Wednesday, according to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office.

23:19: As in 23 hours, 19 minutes -- the total amount of time on the House floor spent in the first two days of debate.

24:18: As in, 24 hours, 18 minutes, the length of the longest filibuster in Senate history, led by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in opposition to the 1957 civil rights act.

6: The number of House Republicans who voted against the Iraq war resolution in October 2002.

11: The number of House Republicans who have so far spoken out against Bush's proposed troop surge.

Rep. Shuler's remarks from last night:

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight in support of this resolution because for 4 years this administration has driven us down the wrong road in Iraq. The administration's newest proposal does nothing more than accelerate our pace further and further away from our obligation of stabilizing Iraq and getting our troops home.

Our men and women in uniform have performed bravely and done everything asked of them. Yet, 4 years into this conflict, we have our troops driving unarmored humvees in enemy territory.

Meanwhile, our government cannot account for roughly $12 billion allocated for the war in Iraq.

With that $12 billion, we could have made the following purchases for our men and women in harm's way: 80,000 armor kits for humvees; 16,000 armored security vehicles; 20 million bulletproof vests; 40 million helmets. That money is gone. It disappeared in a cloud of waste, fraud and incompetence that has engulfed this war from the beginning.

In the words of Three Star General Greg Newbold, "Members of Congress, from both parties, defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight."

Now, this administration wants Congress to rubber stamp an escalation and continuation of those same failed policies. Well, that time is over.

My fellow Blue Dogs and I have made a public commitment to root out war profiteering. We demand oversight. We demand accountability. We demand transparency. The Blue Dogs and I will do everything in our power to make sure when we say we are funding our troops, the money actually gets to our troops.

Mr. Speaker, our military defeated a terrible dictator. This is what they were asked to do, but for 4 years now, we have asked those same troops to rebuild a Nation, and we have asked them to do this without a plan.

Now, this administration has asked us to send over 20,000 more military troops to continue trying to rebuild Iraq, still with no plan. Mr. Speaker, that is wrong.

I believe it is the patriotic responsibility of every Member of Congress to ask those tough questions. I promised the people of Western North Carolina that I would ask those questions. I have been to the White House, I have been to the Pentagon, and I have been to the hearings, and I am not satisfied with the answers I am getting.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution we are debating is not a binding resolution, but the grief felt by families who have lost loved ones is binding. The physical and mental struggles of our returning troops are binding. The devastation caused to innocent people by the violence in Iraq is binding.

It is a moral outrage to continue sending troops into harm's way without a plan for success.

This administration must realize that military might alone is not enough to secure Iraq and end the civil war.

Victory in Iraq requires more than bullets and bombs. It requires the cooperation of the Iraqi government, increased regional diplomacy, and competent leadership at home. [END]

As a counterpoint, here's what Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) said in her remarks. Wilson, a moderate Republican who represents a swing district, is standing by the president:

WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I come to the floor here today, disappointed. Over the next few months, the United States will make some very important decisions, probably the most important national security decisions that we will make in this decade. These decisions are going to affect the size and the composition and the equipment of our military. It will impact our relationships with our allies, the perception of our enemies, and the stability of the Persian Gulf region. These are serious and difficult issues that demand thoughtful leadership and the careful exercise of our considerable responsibilities under the Constitution.

The resolution that we have before us today is not binding in a legal sense. We are not exercising any real power here. But I think it is worse than that. The words in these two brief sentences are vague enough to allow people with very different views on what we should do to feel satisfied whichever way they vote. The language in this resolution is clever, but this isn't a time for clever. Whether I support this resolution or oppose it, this body should say something, say something that matters about what our vital national interests are, about how we should pursue those interests, about what the risks are, what the trade-offs are and the potential consequences. We should say whether we intend to buy the bullets and the body armor for those who are about to deploy and take on the challenges that we face as a Nation.

With power comes responsibility. And rather than do the hard work of building a consensus here in the House and leading the way, it is easier to punt, to be vague and clever, to frame political issues rather than confront forthrightly the difficult problems that we face as a Nation. For that reason I believe this resolution represents a lost opportunity that we cannot afford to lose.

I believe that too often in the last 3 1/2 years our goals in Iraq have been described in the lofty and idealistic terms that go far beyond America's vital national interests. There has been a tendency to move beyond the hard-nosed and clear-eyed view of what America's national interests are in Iraq and we have come to emphasize the loftier dreams for the American people.

To be sure, I am glad that Saddam Hussein is dead and gone. And I hope that the Iraqi people seize this opportunity to create a unified state that respects minorities and has robust democratic institutions. But there is a difference between what we would wish for the Iraqi people and what is vital for America's national security.

In thinking about America's vital interests in Iraq, I think it really boils down to two things: First, Iraq must not become a safe haven for al Qaeda; and, second, Iraq must not be a source of instability in the region. These vital interests are actually quite narrow. Some might argue that they are too narrow. But they are most notable for what they do not include. Perhaps most significantly, I don't believe it is vital to America's national interests to stop all sectarian violence in Iraq.

We admire our military because they are forward leading and "can do" people. But in this instance we cannot do for the Iraqis what they will not do for themselves.

The President is sending an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq. The problem isn't the numbers. The problem is the mission and setting the conditions to be able to accomplish that mission. Some of these troops are going to Anbar, and I think that we do need to enforce our troops in the Sunni heartland to fight al Qaeda and to make it less likely that they will be welcomed there for the long term. But I am skeptical about the Baghdad mission. Operation Together Forward, the effort to secure Baghdad last year, failed. The idea was to clear, hold, and build; but the Iraqi units did not show up in enough numbers to be able to hold what America had cleared. In the early days of this surge in Baghdad, there are too many indications that this will be happening again.

The resolution we are considering this week contains only two thoughts. It is only two sentences long. First, that we oppose increasing troop levels in Iraq by 20,000. As I have said, I support increasing troops in Anbar, even though I am skeptical about the likelihood of success in Baghdad.

But the second thought is notable for what it omits. The resolution says that this House will fund our soldiers and our veterans if they are there now or if they have been there before.

This begs the most important question about our real power here in the Congress. What about the five brigades of young Americans who are now preparing their families and packing their gear to deploy? What about them? What are you saying to them? Will we buy body armor for them? Will we have armored Humvees for them? Will they have trucks to take them to their assigned place of action? Will they get the bullets and the night scopes and the sleeping bags and the chow? What about them? Will they get their combat pay? Will they get their family separation allowance?

I believe that the majority in this House and the sponsors of this resolution would support a clear statement that we will fund the troops and the mission they are being ordered to undertake. But, of course, perhaps half of the Democrats in the Congress, from the far left of America's political spectrum, want to stop the funding.

In this war on terrorism, the greatest burdens have fallen on the shoulders of the relatively small number of Americans who have volunteered to take great risks on our behalf. As leaders of this Nation, this House abdicates its responsibility if we fail to make clear to them that they will have the equipment they need to do the job and come home again. The short two sentence resolution we will vote on here this week doesn't address any of these important issues.

If you are asking the wrong question, perhaps any answer will do. But we will vote anyway, and it will make headlines, and it will accomplish nothing of the hard work we have in front of us. What are our vital national interests in Iraq, and what is not vital? What strategies can we use to protect and promote those vital interests? What are the resources that are required to pursue those strategies? What are the risks and the costs and the choices we must make? Are there ways to mitigate those risks?

These are the important questions, and in the short two-sentence resolution, they remain unresolved, leaving the House with nothing very important to say about what matters to America and what we should do.

I have made my position clear in ways that this resolution fails to do. I will seek to provide leadership in this House to address these important questions, to influence this administration and to focus on what is vital to America. It is for these reasons that I must oppose the resolution in front of us today. [END]

Source: Congressional Record

By Paul Kane  |  February 15, 2007; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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