New Congress Members Join House Debate on Iraq Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) began their first congressional terms in January. Now they're participating in this week's debate on Iraq. Giffords supports a House resolution expressing disapproval of President Bush's troop escalation, and Roskam is opposed to it.
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New Congress Members Join House Debate on Iraq

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New Congress Members Join House Debate on Iraq

New Congress Members Join House Debate on Iraq

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For new members of the House, this Iraq debate has offered a first chance to make a major speech on the floor. We've been following two freshmen since they were elected last November - Democrat Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Republican Peter Roskam of Illinois.

In this speech, Roskam expressed his opposition to the resolution.

Representative PETER ROSKAM (Republican, Illinois): We need to ask what is it about this resolution that will do one of two things. Does this encourage our troops or does this discourage our enemies? And I would suggest that this resolution, while it's serious, oh it's very serious, it's not substantive. This is the ultimate expression of legislative passive aggression.

NORRIS: That last statement came from the House floor from Congressman Peter Roskam. He's a Republican from Illinois. He joins us now, along with Democratic Congressman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

We met both of these freshmen members earlier this year as they started their terms in Washington. We plan to speak to them throughout the coming year and they're back with us now. Welcome back to the program.

Representative ROSKAM: Good to be here.

Representative GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (Democrat, Arizona): Thank you.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, I want to begin with you. How and when did you decide what you were going to say on the floor?

Representative ROSKAM: Well, as you know, we've been debating this throughout the course of the week. And it wasn't really clear to me whether I was going to speak at all, but I became convinced the more I heard as we were moving along that I needed to say something. It's the great weighty issue of our day. And I think as a person who represents hundreds of thousands of people, I've got a responsibility to speak my mind.

NORRIS: You mentioned the word fear and the use of the word failure. And it's interesting because there are many people who look at the current policy in Iraq, and that's exactly what they see - a failed policy.

Representative ROSKAM: I think that is a fair characterization, by the way. I'm not here defending the status quo. And it's ironic that the resolution, if you implement it, it simply says two things. We support the troops and we don't support the surge. And by implication, then, that is a vote for the status quo. I think here's got to be change, and I do think there's a lot to criticize in the past, but as someone who was not a part of the past debate, I just believe that a non-binding resolution doesn't help us.

NORRIS: I want to turn now to Congresswoman Giffords. Do you plan to support the resolution and explain your position?

Representative GIFFORDS: Well, let me first say that this is a meaningful first step to the process. The debate itself that we're having right now represents our way of life. The fact that we can even have this debate without violence is so important. And I believe that terrorism wins when you can no longer challenge our government or question our policies. I wholeheartedly support our troops, but do not believe that the president's plan to add 20,000 additional troops to Iraq is going to help.

NORRIS: To what degree will your remarks be based on personal experience? Did you speak to people at one of the two military bases in your district? Did you consider the people that you've met while visiting Walter Reed?

Representative GIFFORDS: As I pulled my speech together, I based it on a lot of different experiences I've had in the last couple of weeks, months, even in the last couple of years. My visit last week to Walter Reed Hospital, where I had the chance to speak with some military soldiers, although no one from Arizona currently is at Walter Reed. I think it's important to go.

Talking to my constituents, reading mail. I served on the House Armed Services Committee on a Foreign Affairs Committee so I had the chance to speak with both strategic experts, military experts as well, and of course, visiting Fort Huachuca, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is also in my district. So I've pulled together a lot of experiences and thoughts.

NORRIS: A question to both of you. Who do you think is your primary audience when you stand there at the podium? Are you speaking to fellow House members? Are you speaking primarily to your constituents or the men and women who are in uniform?

Representative ROSKAM: I think we're speaking to all three, frankly. There is a very important constituency at home that's following this. There's other colleagues that are listening. And clearly, we're speaking to men and women around the world.

Representative GIFFORDS: And I absolutely agree. We're having a chance to understand where our fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle, where they come from. I received e-mails from individuals serving in Iraq right now, giving me their comments on what they see in terms of the debate. And certainly the folks back home are going to be paying close attention this evening.

NORRIS: You know there's a big question about whether this debate might somehow demoralize the troops. Congressman Roskam, you've mentioned that in your remarks. In receiving these e-mails and listening to their reactions to what they're actually hearing or seeing if they happen to actually be watching this, are any of the service men and women that have contacted you, do they reference that?

Representative ROSKAM: Well, I know of a particular example of a young officer in my district who is part of this surge, and I've been in touch with his family. I've been in touch with his wife. And what we see playing out is the unintended consequence, right? That there is no sense of the real support, not being supportive of the underlying mission.

I think the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said it well, ironically, a couple of days ago when she said, "in a few days and fewer than a hundred words, we'll take our country in a new direction on Iraq. A vote of disapproval will set the stage for additional Iraq legislation which will be coming to the House floor."

And I think that is a prelude of some very difficult things that will be coming up. And I think moving us in a direction that I don't think is particularly helpful.

NORRIS: What do you expect to see?

Representative GIFFORDS: I expect to see a budget process where we look at funding options. I expect to see resolutions in terms of what we're going to do with Iran. We need to, again, look at a process that is going to talk about our strategy with Afghanistan, the surge that is expected for the spring.

There's going to be an appropriations process, a benchmark process for us. You know, this new Congress has been in for six weeks. We worked quickly to pass a hundred hour set of bills that moved America forward, in my opinion. And now we're working to start the very important role that we're going to play in making sure that Iraq is resolved.

NORRIS: Congressman Roskam, if this is a first step, what's next?

Representative ROSKAM: Well, I think what we will end up seeing is the beginning to defund our troops in Iraq. And I think that that would be a disaster. I think it would be just completely demoralizing. And I think, I take the speaker at face value, and I think that this vote is a prelude of things to come.

NORRIS: You both -

Representative GIFFORDS: And let, just, I have to say, we will never vote to cut the funding to American service members in harm's way. That will never happen.

NORRIS: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, and Congressman Peter Roskam, a Republican from Illinois. Thanks so much to both of you.

Representative GIFFORDS: Thank you.

Representative ROSKAM: Thanks.

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