Reacting to a call by an influential Democratic lawmaker for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly rejected such a move. This came after often bitter debate, and after Democrats had spent the day defending Congressman John Murtha, who Republicans continue to criticize.
Aiming to blunt the impact of Mr. Murtha's call for a withdrawal from Iraq, Republican leaders decided to use the last hours before the House adjourns for two weeks to put the issue to a test.
They rushed to the floor a one sentence non-binding resolution stating: It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.
Mr. Murtha had called for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, "at the earliest practicable date", adding he thought this could be accomplished within six months.
The Republican move was aimed at putting Democrats in a difficult position, forcing the question of the U.S. military occupation into the open for a vote, and using the debate to counteract the media attention Mr. Murtha received on Thursday.
Lawmakers spent hours verbally slashing at each other over Bush administration handling of Iraq and pre-war intelligence.
An angry Democratic Congressman David Obey, accused Republicans of carrying out a partisan political stunt.
"It is cheap, political stunt that does a disservice to every serviceman and woman fighting in Iraq today," said David Obey.
Citing e-mails from U.S. soldiers, Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asserted that those serving in Iraq oppose any abrupt withdrawal.
This was one of many moments of uproar, as Congressman Hunter stated what Republicans were trying to accomplish, with a Democrat, Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney drowned out by the commotion.
"Let me just reiterate to my friend, he said this should not be about Mr. Murtha and it is not about Mr. Murtha," Congressman Hunter said. " It's about the message that has been sent around the world [by Mr. Murtha's statement on Iraq) as evidenced by e-mails coming back in from our troops now, who think that the Congress is pulling the rug out from under the mission [in Iraq]."
"By whom?" Congressman Tierney asked. " It is your mischaracterization, it is your mischaracterization of what was said that is sending that message, and our e-mails show that people know about it."
Earlier Friday, House and Senate Democrats defended Congressman Murtha, a Vietnam veteran respected for his strong support of the U.S. military, against criticisms leveled at him by the Bush administration.
Senator John Kerry, who lost the 2004 election to President Bush, lashed out at what he called disgusting efforts by Republicans to discredit Mr. Murtha in particular, and label Democratic criticism on Iraq unpatriotic.
"We have seen the politics of fear and smear too many times," Senator Kerry said. "And whenever challenged, there are some Republican leaders who engage in the politics of personal destruction rather than debate the issues. It doesn't matter who you are."
"I don't think anyone is trying to crush debate or dissent, or prevent questions from being asked," Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl responded. " But it is a fact when the president of the United States is accused of deliberate manipulation of intelligence to bring us into war, some have even said lied, in order to bring us into war, that deserves a response. That is part of a healthy debate."
Just before the vote late Friday, Congressman Murtha took to the House floor to repeat his view that U.S. troops have accomplished all they can in Iraq and had this forceful response to Bush administration of his position.
"I did not introduce this as a partisan resolution," said John Murtha. "I go by Arlington Cemetery every day. And the vice president, he criticizes Democrats? Let me tell you, those grave stones don't say Democrat or Republican, they say American."
Mr. Murtha received applause and several standing ovations, at times from Republicans as well as from Democrats. But some Republicans, such as Steve Buyer, were just as forceful in voicing their opposition to any early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
"Our soldiers ask what of us? Loyalty," said Steve Buyer. "And they expect us to have the very same resolve that we expect of them. That in battle they look at us and say when it gets hard and when it gets tough, can you hang with us Congress?"
All of this took place amid public opinion polls showing high levels of disapproval among Americans of how President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq.
The Republican-controlled Senate this past week voted for an amendment stating that 2006 should be a transitional year for Iraqis taking over more of their own security burden which could lead the way to U.S. withdrawal.