Iraq Debaters Break Up into Blocs
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Scores of Congress members have now stood up and weighed in on the war in Iraq. Over the last two days, debate on a resolution against the president's war plan has led to marathon sessions. Today, the talk could go on even longer. Lawmakers have organized into like-minded groups speaking in blocs to heighten their impact on the debate, and constituents back home are reacting.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: A young staffer sits at a desk piled with papers and answers the phone.
Mr. SCOTT HOROWITZ (System Administrator for Congressman John Hall): Congressman John Hall's office. How may I help you? Sure, I'll be glad to take your opinion and pass it on to the congressman.
SEABROOK: Scott Horowitz works for freshly elected Congressman John Hall of New York. There are no plaques or pictures with past presidents on the wall. There hasn't been time to hang those yet. One reason is that constituents keep calling, and it's most often about Iraq.
Mr. HOROWITZ: So…
SEABROOK: What did he say?
Mr. HOROWITZ: He was just talking about the privatization of the military. He's against it. He says it is about 50 to 100,000 mercenaries, you know, paid soldiers there and…
SEABROOK: Hall's district includes the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But Horowitz says the majority of people calling in are fed up with the war in Iraq. And that was the headline from yesterday's floor debate, too. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke, as did the group of conservatives Democrats known as Blue Dogs. Late last night, it was time for the thirty-somethings, the only people who could stay awake till midnight, one leader said. But by far the greatest impact on the debate so far has been Republicans unhappy with the war, like North Carolina's Howard Coble.
Representative HOWARD COBLE (Republican, North Carolina): I am personally very high on President Bush. But on the matter of troop escalation, I am not in agreement.
SEABROOK: Coble supported the war, supported deposing Saddam, and lays responsibility for the current mess in Iraq on the Iraqis themselves.
Rep. COBLE: They rejected freedom and chose civil war. And the longer we maintain a presence there, the more they will rely upon us. The time has come, in my opinion, for the baton to be handed to the Iraqis.
SEABROOK: Floor speeches like Coble's force some of the other Republicans, the ones still supporting the president and his surge strategy, to change their own speeches. Listen to Republican Zach Wamp of Tennessee.
Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): We must do better. But we better not retreat in Iraq.
SEABROOK: Completely absent so far is any talk of things going well in Iraq. Just about everyone agrees that the war is not going well, like Minnesota Republican Jim Ramstad.
Representative JIM RAMSTAD (Republican, Minnesota): The resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq - that we passed in the fall of 2002 - was never intended to authorize the use of American troops to police a civil war. It was never intended to provide justification for sending 21,500 more American troops into the middle of a civil war.
SEABROOK: And through it all, lawmakers continued to hear from their constituents. One Republican said every time he speaks on the floor, his office switchboard lights up like a Vegas casino. And in Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel's office, staffer Jonathan Levy scans the answers from an e-mail survey of constituents.
Mr. JONATHAN LEVY (Staffer of Representative Rahm Emanuel): We need to get out of Iraq now and let them determine their fate; or else, divide the country into three countries and let each faction govern themselves. The next one says it was a mistake, continues to be a mistake. The best way to support the troops is to bring them home. And then the third, I may not agree with the reasons we went to war, but talking about this in the heat of what lies ahead is a waste of breath.
SEABROOK: After one more midnight session tonight, Congress is expected to vote on the resolution Friday and pass it. Next month, the question becomes paying for the war and the troops in the field. And then the switchboards may tell a different story.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.