House Debate Begins on Iraq Resolution
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up, is the war in Iraq really four different wars?
CHADWICK: First, after four years of the war, in the House of Representatives today debate is underway on a resolution to condemn the so-called surge of troops into Iraq.
BRAND: Before a vote on this resolution, all members will get five minutes to speak, and that means days of debate. Our Mike Pesca will be monitoring all the talk this week. He's here now with the early action.
MIKE PESCA: Hi. And if this were a ball game, we'd still be in the top of the first inning at this point. Actually, maybe a cricket match is the better analogy because, as you said, it's going to go one for days. If you do the math: 435 members of Congress, plus the guys from Guam and American Samoa, comes out to almost 40 hours. And that's real hours, not the clock that the Democrats were using in the first 100 hours. We're not going to stop until Friday.
BRAND: What exactly will they be talking about?
PESCA: The only terse thing in this whole discussion is what exactly it is they're debating. The resolution logs in at fewer than 100 words. It's one sentence. It says, clause one, we support the troops; clause two, we disapprove of the surge.
BRAND: And that's it?
PESCA: That is it. And that's a problem, at least according to Norman Ornstein, who's a congressional scholar. You know, what about the issue of funding, what about when do we withdraw, what about what happens after we withdraw. These questions, or the lack of these questions, trouble Ornstein, who looks at this short resolution, he sees no opportunity to amend or to offer competing resolutions, and this is what he says.
Mr. NORMAN ORNSTEIN (American Enterprise Institute): It's not like this debate itself is going to have any impact on the conduct of the war. And it's not going to be a debate; it's going to be 435 members of the Congress each getting up and speaking for five minutes.
PESCA: And then you have the issue of it being non-binding. Republican Minority Leader John Boehner went right at this in his comments.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): What we're dealing with here today isn't even a resolution to debate the war itself; it's a non-binding resolution attacking a single strategy in a prosecution of a much larger war. Non-binding means non-leadership. It's non-accountable, and I don't think it's the right message for our troops.
PESCA: Now I have to point this out: As far as non-binding means non-leadership, let's remember back last summer, when Boehner was the Republican leader, he passed a resolution just as non-binding, but it was pro-war. At the time he said it was an important statement for Congress to be making, to be backing the president and supporting the troops.
BRAND: Well, Mike, isn't that the argument to be made with this one too, that we need to know where everyone stand and that this is sort of a stake in the ground?
PESCA: Yes, the stake in the ground argument. And the problem with that is there have been so many stakes so far - the Iraq Study Group was supposed to be a stake, the appointment of the new defense secretary, the appointment of General Petraeus, all stakes in the ground.
Sometimes you get the idea that if there were a bird's eye view of the ground it looks like someone's getting ready for a game of croquet.
This will be - at the end of the day it will pass. It will be a House-only resolution, because the Senate punted on a similar resolution. It won't discuss funding or troop levels. It won't discuss the future. It will be non-binding, as we said. And the president has said he won't be paying attention to what the House of Representatives is doing.
But as to that last point about the audience of one that this resolution is talking to, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a different take.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): Just 10 days ago, President Bush told House Democrats I welcome debate in a time of war. I do not believe that if you happen to agree with me you don't share the same sense of patriotism I do, the president said.
PESCA: Democrats are saying they're not being un-patriotic. They're also saying that they're sufficiently bold. Republicans questioning the effects on troop morale, also daring the Democrats to do more. We'll be literally hearing hundreds of variations of these themes in the days ahead.
BRAND: And I know you'll be glued to your C-Span, Mike. NPR's Mike Pesca in New York. Thank you.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
BRAND: NPR's Mike Pesca in New York, glued to C-SPAN. Thanks a lot.
PESCA: You're welcome.