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Emotional Moments in the Debate on Iraq

With the Senate unable to get enough votes to formally debate the House's anti-surge resolution, the two chambers are at odds over their formal stances on President Bush's decision to send more than 20,000 new troops into Iraq.

This is a trend that liberals will begin to hate more and more over the next two years. Conservatives can commiserate, recalling how in the previous four years -- when their allies controlled the White House, House and a closely divided Senate -- much of their agenda items fell short in the upper chamber.

The Senate's debate on this matter was nothing like what Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pulled off in the House, which went through four long days of debate before coming to a 246-182 vote disapproving of Bush's surge.

After a few days of slow and sometimes plodding debate in the House, the emotions poured forth a bit more on Friday. For Democrats, the major highlight was passing the measure, the first time Bush had lost a vote on Capitol Hill regarding his handling of the Iraq war -- even if it was a non-binding resolution.

A scene from the Capitol on Friday demonstrated the emotion that Democrats felt in being able to challenge the president -- for the first time -- on behalf of their constituents. Immediately after the vote, as Pelosi made her way from the chamber floor to the third floor press gallery, she encountered a line of tourists waiting to get into the gallery. The group immediately, spontaneously erupted into a long standing ovation for the new speaker.

"Pretty amazing," one aide said in describing the scene.

For Republicans, their emotional touchstone moment came when Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), a prisoner of war for more than seven years in Vietnam, closed off their portion of the debate with an emotional recollection of his time in prison.

Johnson told the hushed chamber how his captors would frequently broadcast radio reports about war protestors back in the U.S., trying to break the spirit of the American soliders, who were kept in solitary confinement. "The pain inflicted by your country's indifference is tenfold that inflicted by your ruthless captors," Johnson said. He further told his fellow members of Congress that "debating non-binding resolutions aimed at earning political points only destroys morale, stymies success, and emboldens the enemy."

Upon conclusion his Republican colleagues gave Johnson a several minute standing ovation. Some Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), joined in applauding the ex-POW.

[The full text of Pelosi's and Johnson's floor speeches are included at the end of this post.]

Now, for the last time, here's a look at the Iraq debate, by the numbers:

44:55: As in, 44 hours, 55 minutes, total time of debate over four days in the House.

393: Total number of members who spoke on the floor, 221 Democrats, and 172 Republicans.

17: Number of Republicans who voted with Democrats in the House.

1: Number of Democratic caucus members in the Senate who voted with Republicans. [Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)]

10: Number of senators who didn't show up for the rare Saturday vote, nine Republicans and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who's still recovering from brain surgery.

1: Number of Senate Republicans who opposed the resolution approving the Iraq war in October 2002 [Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.)]

7: Number of Senate Republicans now on record opposed to the surge.

REMARKS BY PELOSI

*******

"My colleagues, for four days and three nights, more than 350 Members of Congress have come to the floor to speak their conscience about the war in Iraq, and the President's escalation proposal. I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for the tenor, for the most part, and the substance of their remarks.

"There is one proposition on which we can all agree: our troops have performed excellently in Iraq. They have done everything asked of them. And as the resolution states, 'Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq."

"We owe our troops a debt of gratitude, for their patriotism, for their courage, and for the sacrifices they are willing to make. As a sign of our respect for them, particularly those who have lost their lives in the war, and for their families, I request that we observe a moment of silence.

"We owe our troops a course of action in Iraq that is worthy of their sacrifice. Today, we set the stage for a New Direction on Iraq by passing a resolution with fewer than 100 words, which supports our troops and disapproves of the President's escalation proposal.

"Democrats have proposed a different course of action to the President. Over and over again, we have suggested a different plan. One year ago, Senator Harry Reid and I stood with House and Senate Democrats to propose our agenda for Real Security - to project our power and our values to protect the American people.

"Consistent with our Real Security agenda, Democrats have sent the President four letters, starting in July and the most recent one at the end of January, urging him to adopt a strategy for success containing these elements: change of mission; redeployment of troops; building a political consensus; engaging in diplomacy; reform of reconstruction; and a refocus on the war on terror.

"In terms of changing the mission, U.S. forces in Iraq must be transitioned from combat to training of Iraqi forces, real counter terrorism activities, and force protection and logistics. A shift in mission will allow the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to be reduced, diminishing their presence in the daily lives of Iraqis, and minimizing the chances of these troops being caught in the cross-fire between rival Iraqi factions.

"Ending the emphasis on a combat mission will allow the phased redeployment of our forces from Iraq beginning within the next four to six months. Declining troop levels will require fewer bases and none of them will need to be permanent, consistent with legislation introduced and passed by this by House by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and also introduced by Congressman David Price. A smaller military presence in Iraq will also relieve some of the strain on our troops, their families, and our military equipment.

"Success in Iraq requires more than military force. And that really is what this debate is about today. As three-star General Peter Chiarelli, until recently the Commander of the Multinational Corps Iraq, observed in December, and I quote, 'We need to get out of thinking that this is solely a military conflict where we must simply apply more U.S. or coalition or Iraqi forces against an enemy that we can destroy. All our nation's strengths -- diplomatic, economic, political -- must be leveraged to help the Iraqis find their way through this process."

"Unfortunately there has been no sustained and effective effort to engage Iraqi's neighbors diplomatically.

"Iraq's neighbors have the greatest stake in Iraq's stability and the role it will play in the region. Leaders of those countries are best able to help Iraqi leaders improve security by reducing ethnic tensions. To this end, an international contact group should be established to support a political settlement in Iraq and preserve Iraq's sovereignty.

"Senator Reid and I also wrote to the President that an international conference should be convened to broaden support for the reconstruction effort that is essential if Iraqis are going to be put to work building their country's future.

"And on the subject of reconstruction, there has been little effective reconstruction in Iraq because of mismanagement and disappearances of funds. That is why we propose, that for in order for the reconstruction of Iraq to attract international support, it must be conducted according to practices which are honest, transparent, and accountable. Reconstruction must be guided by the kind of process set forth in legislation introduced by Congressman Patrick Murphy and the Blue Dog Coalition. The United States should take the lead on accountability in reconstruction."

"Politically there has been no sustained and effective effort to engage rival Iraqi factions. The U.S. must insist that Iraqi leaders make the political compromises needed for broad-based and sustainable political settlement that will produce an inclusive political system in Iraq. A good beginning would be to press Iraqi leaders to amend the constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources. That was promised at the time of the referendum over one year ago. The resulting political consensus will allow Iraqi security forces to challenge the militias on behalf of the nation and to disarm them."

"Proponents of the President's escalation are equating the war on terror to the war in Iraq. As our esteemed Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, great patriot, has observed, 'Two conflicts. Two wars. And the two should not be confused. There are those who attempt to fuzz the two conflicts together as 'the war on terror,' but the wars are truly separate and distinct."

"The war in Iraq continues to detract from our ability to fight the war against international terrorism effectively. We need to finish the job started more than five years ago in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and address other conditions around the world in which the appeal of terrorism breeds."

"The longer it takes us to resolve the situation in Iraq, the longer resources and attention will continue to be diverted from the war on terrorism. Our ability to respond to the escalating conflict in Afghanistan and other potential crises in the world is constrained severely by the deterioration in military readiness to levels not seen since the Vietnam era."

"We have the six elements that we talked about: change of mission, redeployment of troops, building of political consensus, engaging in diplomacy, reform of reconstruction, and a refocus on the war on terror."

"By placing so much emphasis on dealing with the problems in Iraq militarily and not enough emphasis on sustained political and diplomatic engagement, the President's escalation plan repeats past mistakes. "

"The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success.

"The bipartisan resolution today may be nonbinding, but it will send a strong message to the President: We here in Congress are committed to protecting and supporting our troops.

"The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home safely and soon.

"Our troops are working together to secure our nation, and we in this House must work together to secure our nation as well and to do so in a way that honors their sacrifice.

"I urge my colleagues to support our troops and a New Direction in Iraq by voting aye on the bipartisan Skelton, Lantos, Jones resolution.

"Thank you, Madam Speaker."

*******

REMARKS BY JOHNSON

"You know, I flew 62 combat missions in the Korean War and 25 missions in the Vietnam War before being shot down. "

"I had the privilege of serving in the United States Air Force for 29 years, attending the prestigious National War College, and commanding two air bases, among other things."

"I mention these stories because I view the debate on the floor not just as a U.S. Congressman elected to serve the good people of the Third District in Texas, but also through the lens of a life-long fighter pilot, student of war, a combat warrior, a leader of men, and a Prisoner of War."

"Ironically, this week marks the anniversary that I started a new life -- and my freedom from prison in Hanoi.

"I spent nearly seven years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, more than half of that time in solitary confinement. I flew out of Hanoi on February 12, 1973 with other long-held Prisoners of War -- weighing just 140 pounds. And tomorrow - 34 years ago, I had my homecoming to Texas - a truly unspeakable blessing of freedom."

"While in solitary confinement, my captors kept me in leg stocks, like the pilgrims... for 72 days....
"As you can imagine, they had to carry me out of the stocks because I couldn't walk. The following day, they put me in leg irons... for 2 ½ years. That's when you have a tight metal cuff around each ankle -- with a foot-long bar connecting the legs.

"I still have little feeling in my right arm and my right hand... and my body has never been the same since my nearly 2,500 days of captivity."

"But I will never let my physical wounds hold me back."

"Instead, I try to see the silver lining. I say that because in some way ... I'm living a dream...a hope I had for the future. "

"From April 16, 1966 to February 12, 1973 -- I prayed that I would return home to the loving embrace of my wife, Shirley, and my three kids, Bob, Gini, and Beverly..."

"And my fellow POWs and I clung to the hope of when -- not if -- we returned home."

"We would spend hours tapping on the adjoining cement walls about what we would do when we got home to America. "

"We pledged to quit griping about the way the government was running the war in Vietnam and do something about it... We decided that we would run for office and try to make America a better place for all."

"So -- little did I know back in my rat-infested 3 x 8 dark and filthy cell that 34 years after my departure from Hell on Earth... I would spend the anniversary of my release pleading for a House panel to back my measure to support and fully fund the troops in harm's way....and that just days later I would be on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives surrounded by distinguished veterans urging Congress to support our troops to the hilt. "

"We POWs were still in Vietnam when Washington cut the funding for Vietnam. I know what it does to morale and mission success. Words can not fully describe the horrendous damage of the anti-American efforts against the war back home to the guys on the ground."

"Our captors would blare nasty recordings over the loud speaker of Americans protesting back home...tales of Americans spitting on Vietnam veterans when they came home... and worse."

"We must never, ever let that happen again."

"The pain inflicted by your country's indifference is tenfold that inflicted by your ruthless captors. "

"Our troops -- and their families -- want, need and deserve the full support of the country - and the Congress. Moms and dads watching the news need to know that the Congress will not leave their sons and daughters in harm's way without support."

"Since the President announced his new plan for Iraq last month, there has been steady progress. He changed the rules of engagement and removed political protections. "

"There are reports we wounded the number two of Al Qaeda and killed his deputy. Yes, Al Qaeda operates in Iraq. It's alleged that top radical jihadist Al-Sadr has fled Iraq - maybe to Iran. And Iraq's closed its borders with Iran and Syria. The President changed course and offered a new plan ...we are making progress. We must seize the opportunity to move forward, not stifle future success."

"Debating non-binding resolutions aimed at earning political points only destroys morale, stymies success, and emboldens the enemy."

"The grim reality is that this House measure is the first step to cutting funding of the troops...Just ask John Murtha about his 'slow-bleed' plan that hamstrings our troops in harm's way."

"Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home - and those who fought and died in Iraq - so I can keep my promise that when we got home we would quit griping about the war and do something positive about it...and we must not allow this Congress to leave these troops like the Congress left us."

"Today, let my body serve as a brutal reminder that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past... instead learn from them."

"We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them. We must support them all the way...To our troops we must remain...always faithful."

"God bless you and I salute you all. Thank you."

By Paul Kane  |  February 18, 2007; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  Dem. Leaders , GOP Leaders , Senate  
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