What an interesting Friday in Congress. Bills of all kinds were flying around--budget in the House, taxes in the Senate, plus Patriot Act manueverings and reconciliation back and forth. And somehow they still found time to organize a political stunt bill vote and in the process set the smear engines on full ahead.
The House today voted 403-3 to defeat a bill calling for a literally immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Of course the headlines essentially read what the GOP wanted them to read in a hopeful attempt at jujitsu: that a bill to pull troops--something a majority of Americans now supports in some abstract form--was unanimously rejected by both sides of the aisle. But it might have been helpful to put the bill text closer to the top of these stories:
"It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
Not heavy on detail, is it? Murtha's own bill gave no such immediacy other than ASAP, but that's not what the GOP had the House vote on. So the bill itself was a sham, quickly recognized as such by Minority leadership and given the heave ho. But the far more controversial event occurred during the debate, as new Rep Jean Schmidt (the winner in the Hackett squeaker) read into the record a statement supposedly from a constituent, calling Murtha a coward. Things devolved quickly from there:
Ms. Schmidt: Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bop, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body - that we will see this through.
[Note by kos -- the whole chamber went nuts at this point, with Democrats shouting and booing Schmidt down]
The Speaker Pro Tempore: The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The house will be in order. The gentlelady will suspend. And the clerk will report her words. All members will suspend. The gentleman from Arkansas has demanded that the gentlelady's words be taken down. The clerk will report the gentlelady's words.
The Speaker Pro Tempore: The house will be in order. Members pleas take seats. The gentlelady from Ohio.
Ms. Schmidt: Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member. Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. I therefore ask for unanimous consent that my words be withdrawn.
The Speaker Pro Tempore: Without objection. The gentlelady's words will be withdrawn.
Now there's no doubt that Republicans have been looking to pounce on something, anything, for a couple of weeks now. And GDub gave the signal to begin defending the administration against criticisms of warhandling. Cheney upped the ante this week, and Bush endorsed it. This is a campaign-style assault engineered by Karl Rove, back in the saddle emotionally for now, or perhaps simply throwing himself into his work. (Note to Karl: keep your calendar open for testimony/lawyering up in the Abramoff case--DeLay's former axeman is turning state's evidence). So I'm sure the troops were given the signal to attack whatever the first bold statement on Iraq was from one of the Democrats.
But I don't think this is turning out the way they'd like, so far. The House vote will be used as GOP ammunition, but the bill doesn't stand up under scrutiny and I think that can be communicated. The smear attempt is definitely coordinated--one of the tactics Rove has developed is asking for an ethics probe of Murtha--but I'm not sure Karl specifically had Jean Schmidt in mind, and not for calling him a coward by proxy of constituent letter. Where the Republicans may have had an advantageous strategy by forcing Democrats to defend Murtha's policy initiative, the Dems seem much more comfortable defending Murtha's character and honor. Chairman Dean weighed in quickly and forcefully:
Shameless Republicans immediately went on the attack. Dick Cheney, who has said that he had "other priorities" and collected 5 deferments while people like Murtha served in Vietnam, called Murtha's comments "irresponsible" and regretted that "the president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone." The White House spokesman, who has also never worn the uniform, pronounced himself "baffled" that Murtha, who volunteered for two wars, wanted to "surrender to the terrorists". A Republican Congressman said Murtha and others "basically are giving aid and comfort to the enemy".
Shame on them. Every one of us -- right now -- needs to let Jack Murtha know that we respect his service, respect his leadership, and respect his right to speak the truth. This man has spent his life serving us. The very least each one of us can do is let him know that no matter what dishonorable smear campaign Republicans wage we will be there with him.
Send Congressman Murtha a note telling him that you will not be silent while he is attacked:
So did John Kerry via email, strikingly bluntly for him (although truthfully I think he's a day late and a dollar short defending Democratic Congressional war veterans):
It disgusts me that a bunch of guys who have never put on the uniform of their country have aimed their venom at a marine who served America heroically in Vietnam and has been serving heroically in Congress ever since. No matter what J.D. Hayworth says, there is no sterner stuff than the backbone and courage that defines Jack Murtha's character and conscience.
Dennis Hastert -- the Speaker of the House who never served -- accused Jack Murtha of being a coward. Well let me tell you, Jack Murtha wasn't a coward when he put himself in harm's way for his country in Vietnam and earned two purple hearts -- he was a patriot then, and he is a patriot today. Jack Murtha's courage in combat earned him a Bronze Star, and his voice should be heard, not silenced by those who still today cut and run from the truth.
Instead of letting his cronies run their mouths, the President for once should stop his allies from doing to Jack Murtha what he set them loose to do to John McCain in South Carolina and Max Cleland in Georgia.
The President should finally find the courage to debate the real issue instead of destroying anyone who speaks truth to power as they see it. It's time for Americans to stand up, fight back, and make it clear it's unacceptable to do this to any leader of any party anywhere in our country.
Murtha shows up on Meet the Press Sunday I believe. Assuming he does well, this may end up backfiring a little on Republicans while they are out in their districts. In any case, it's been a wild week on the House floor. --TJ
Murtha shows up on Meet the Press Sunday I believe. Assuming he does well, this may end up backfiring a little on Republicans while they are out in their districts. In any case, it's been a wild week on the House floor.