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Congress is gaveled back into session, and the Democrats race to the podiums to start debating Iraq. Kidding! The majority is actually 30-some hours into its “First 100 Hours” agenda, gearing up for a debate on student loan interest rates and how much to slash them.
“I think the debate will be different this year,” says Rep. Walter Jones. A Republican from North Carolina, Jones became notorious in 2003 for replacing the House cafeteria’s “French fries,” with all-American, flag-salutin’, Toby Keith-lovin’ “freedom fries.” Since then he’s become his party’s most stalwart, emotional opponent of the war. He writes letters to the families of troops killed in Iraq: “Two page letters, and I put my signature on both pages.”
Jones is working with allies in both parties on legislation that could end the war; he’s supported Kucinich’s calls to stop funding it, which would effectively force the military to withdraw. Before the midterms, Republicans painted a dark picture of a cut-off, with visions of troops stranded in the desert grasping empty rifles and shredded body armor. That’s still the tone of the debate today among Republican leaders and pundits, but Jones swears a growing number of congressmen are giving up on the game.
“Many of my friends who lost on November 7 lost because of George Bush,” Jones says. “I know Republicans who are frustrated. They didn’t speak out before, but this is a debate that should have happened a couple years ago. You going to see a bipartisan group of us start asking these questions.”
Today is Muhammad Ali’s birthday, which will be officially commemorated by the House, and Non-Binding Resolution Day, which probably won’t be. Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democratic presidential candidate expected to drop out sometime later this year, introduces a bill that would cap the number of troops in Iraq at the level they maintained on Jan. 16. (Presumably, he won’t be resurrecting the troops killed after this date.) But he loses the news cycle to three senators with impeccable foreign policy cred and a skill for attracting the media.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden is the only one of the three senators running for president, and he quietly battles Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for the spotlight. With some pinch-hitting from Michigan’s Carl Levin, they propose a resolution that does absolutely nothing. The resolution is non-binding; it declares “the U.S. strategy and presence on the ground in Iraq can only be sustained with the support of the American people and bipartisan support from Congress.” That’s true; the resolution basically sustains the current strategy, surge included.