A majority of House Democrats on Thursday rejected President Bush’s request for blank-check authority to wage war with Iraq, despite the fact that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, helped draft the resolution and lobbied for its passage.
As expected, the resolution authorizing Bush to order the invasion of Iraq – without a Congressional declaration of war — passed the House and Senate easily in votes late Thursday and early Friday. The Senate approved the resolution by a lopsided 77-23 vote; the House by a somewhat narrower 296-133 margin.
The surprise came in the size of the vote against the resolution. Just weeks ago, when foes of the administration canvassed the House to determine the size of the opposition bloc, they counted just a few dozen firm votes against the administration’s proposal.
Even as Thursday’s vote approached, an “alternative to war” resolution proposed by US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, attracted just 39 co-sponsors. The relatively small number of caucus members who had expressed explicit opposition to the resolution before the vote led Gephardt aides to suggest that the minority leader’s outspoken support for the Bush administration’s hard-line position – a stance that made opposing the president’s request more difficult – would be vindicated as a clear majority of House Democrats would join the Republican majority to back the resolution.
But Gephardt, a man whose presidential ambitions are no secret, was not vindicated.
Of 207 House Democrats voting on the resolution, 126 opposed it, while only 81 voted for the measure. “I hope the story today won’t be (that) this is a huge, overwhelming victory for the president of the United States and for war, beacuse it is not,” said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, who was one of the first to break with Gephardt on the issue. “I think what we did will surprise some people. This (the larger-than-expected vote against the resolution) is against conventional wisdom that ‘oh, everybody’s going to be with the president.'”
The 126 Democrats who opposed the resolution were joined by one independent member, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, and six Republicans — John Duncan of Tennessee; John Hostettler of Indiana; Amo Houghton of New York; Jim Leach of Iowa; Connie Morella of Maryland; and Ron Paul of Texas.
The House Democrats who opposed the White House and their own caucus leader included Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is also the ranking Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, D-Michigan; the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey, D-Wisconsin; the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, D-New York; and International Relations Committee members Donald Payne, D-New Jersey; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia; Earl Hilliard, D-Alabama; Bill Delahunt, D-Massachusetts; Gregory Meeks, D-New York; Barbara Lee, D-California; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Grace Napolitano, D-California; and Diane Watson, D-California. They were joined by senior Democratic members such as George Miller, D-California, and James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, who told the House: “Our Constitution entrusts to Congress alone the power to declare war, a power we should invoke with great care on evidence of a clear and present danger to our country. President Bush has asked Congress to cede that power to him, to be wielded against Iraq; at a time of his choosing; with or without United Nations support; in a unilateral, pre-emptive strike, on his own determination of the level of threat Iraq poses to our national security. I will not surrender our constitutional authority.”