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Exasperated House bypasses Senate on Iraq

Representatives schedule their own vote to oppose Bush’s troop ‘surge’

Fallout from stalled Iraq debate
Feb. 6: The Senate indulged in recriminations over Republicans' move to block debate over President Bush's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq. NBC's Mike Viqueira reports.
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WASHINGTON - House leaders got fed up with waiting around for the Senate to act and decided Tuesday to go ahead with their own vote on a resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to add 21,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The House vote will go ahead after Republicans blocked debate on a similar resolution Monday in the Senate.

NBC’s Mike Viqueira reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had agreed to a personal request from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to let the Senate go first in recognition of the role that anti-war sentiment played in Democrats’ winning control of the Senate in November.

But with senators unable to agree even on whether to debate the issue, much less vote on a resolution, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., seized the initiative Tuesday and scheduled a House vote for next week.

‘We wuz robbed,’ Democrats say
Republicans scrambled Tuesday to rebut criticism that they were ignoring the will of the public by refusing to let senators even talk about Iraq.

“We wuz robbed,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., invoking the lament of the late boxing manager Joe Jacobs. “We wuz robbed of our ability to be able to vote on this resolution.

“The American people on November the 7th sent a message to Congress and to the president of the United States: Change the tone in Washington, change the direction in Iraq and change the priorities of this nation,” Mikulski said in a floor speech Tuesday. “We on this side of the aisle got the message. The other side doesn’t seem to.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, accused Republicans of “running interference for the White House and trying to, at all costs, avoid a debate on the escalation of the war.”

“If you want to confuse the issue, if you don’t want to be squarely in an up-or-down vote — do you support or do you oppose the president’s escalation of the war? — you do what the Republicans are doing right now,” he said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing.

GOP pushes for Gregg alternative
Republicans seemed surprised by the backlash against their opposition to opening debate on the resolution, a non-binding measure backed by Sen. John Warner of Virginia and some other prominent Republicans, to express disagreement with Bush’s troop “surge.”

They argued that they were holding out for a fair debate on Iraq, insisting that an alternative resolution offered by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., should also be debated. Gregg’s resolution, which takes no position on Bush’s plan, declares that Congress should not cut funding for troops in the field.

“What we have here is the Democrats’ having a resolution that says we don’t support the president and even that we should stop sending troops even if it’s for troop protection,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, head of the Republicans’ policy committee, told Jansing.

“The Republicans are insisting that we have an alternative resolution that says we have troops in the field and we are not going to stop funding them, and furthermore we are going to let the president be commander-in-chief as the Constitution envisions,” she added.

Viqueira reported that Republican leaders were resigned to the probability that their position would be a political loser in the short term. They insisted that they had to stand up for the long-term rights of the Republican majority.

“We’re ready to go forward, but we don’t think we should be dictated as to how we’re going to handle our part of the debate,” Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi told reporters.

But Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, one of the freshman Democrats who was swept to office in the anti-war election wave, said Gregg’s measure was a transparent maneuver to avoid the issue.

“For the last four years, the Senate could have debated the war in Iraq at any time, and I don’t think they did, and I think that’s unfortunate,” Tester said in an interview with MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer. “At this point in time, I think the issue in front of us is the escalation in Iraq, and I think we need to get that out of the road first and debate other things later.”

NBC’s Mike Viqueira and MSNBC-TV’s Contessa Brewer and Chris Jansing contributed to this report.

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