WASHINGTON—Republicans and Democrats clashed Friday in a raucous floor fight in the House of Representatives after Republican leaders sought to belittle Democratic Rep. John Murtha's call for a prompt withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Republican leaders planned to force an evening vote on a resolution to pull troops out of Iraq immediately, anticipating that few, if any, in the House would support it.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the House needed to clear up any confusion that Murtha's remarks on Thursday may have created about American intentions in the war.
Democrats denounced the resolution as a stunt. They accused Republicans of staging the hasty vote to embarrass Murtha, an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam and is one of the most respected Democratic voices on military issues. They also planned to vote against the resolution as a distortion of Murtha's stand. That would muddy any political message from the vote, as lawmakers on all sides would have supported it.
"Give us a real debate, don't bring this piece of garbage to the floor," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.
Chaos erupted when Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, quoted an Ohio legislator who had called her to protest Murtha's stance. "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," she said.
Democrats demanded that she withdraw her remarks while, on the floor, Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., and Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., clashed loudly in a small scrum of lawmakers.
Schmidt, the newest member of the House, backed down and asked that her comments be removed from the record. "My remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member," she said. "Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania."
Murtha caused a stir Thursday by seeking an immediate halt to the deployment of troops to Iraq. He said an orderly withdrawal should begin immediately and would take about six months, and he called for troops to be replaced with a quick-strike force, perhaps based in Kuwait.
"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency," Murtha said Thursday. "They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."
Murtha is the ranking Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee and is known as a hawkish supporter of spending for the armed services. His stance Thursday aligned him with the liberal wing of his party; many Democrats have called for a more gradual withdrawal or for a timetable to pull out.
But when he entered the chamber Friday night, he was greeted with a loud round of applause from Democrats.
President Bush, speaking in South Korea, alluded to Murtha in remarks to U.S. troops. He quoted Maj. Gen. William Webster, a commander in Iraq, who warned that a deadline for withdrawal would be a "recipe for disaster."
"So long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground," he said. "So we will fight the terrorists in Iraq, and we will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory our brave troops have fought and bled for."
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-TROOPS