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Waters Leads Anti-War Caucus
By Kevin Alexander Gray and Mike Hersh
Washington, DC (November 15, 2005) -- Since the beginning of President
George Bush's unpopular war against the Iraqi people, black female
leadership has led the fight in opposing what has now become Bush's moral
and political albatrose.
Although Representative John Conyers (D-Mich) remains the dean of
progressive politics in Congress, a coterie of black female lawmakers has
emerged on the leadership forefront of opposition to the war. Many are
familiar with Oakland area Congresswoman Barbara Lee's lone challenge to
the war at the start-up and Georgia's Cynthia McKinney's constant vocal
opposition to a variety of questionable policies, political tactics and
the truthfulness of Bush administration officials. Now, Maxine Waters
(D-Calif), in her leadership of a multi-racial coalition, is assuming a
more public role in shaping and leading anti-war efforts in Congress.
The mainstream press is focused on Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a
decorated Vietnam War veteran and hawkish legislator who last week
declared that the Iraq had become so bad that the United States needs to
immediately withdraw troops. However, it was Waters' "Out of Iraq
Coalition" in the House, that organized a press conference at the
Longworth Office Building days prior to Murtha's
announced change of heart. At her side were 19 other congresspeople,
black, white, female, male, gay and Latino demanding that the issue of
"how the United States got into war" be fully debated on the floor of the
At last week's press event, which received literally no coverage from
any mainstream or national media outlets, Waters, chair and founder of
the "Out of Iraq" Congressional Caucus begun in June 2005, announced that
the Caucus filed a discharge petition on House Resolution 55, authored by
Congressmen Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Walter Jones (D-NC). If
passed by Congress, HJ 55 would require Bush to begin bringing US troops
home from Iraq.
A discharge petition is a House rule that permits members to bring to the
floor for consideration a measure not reported from committee if 218
members sign the petition. The discharge petition, as drafted, provides
17 hours of debate and permits consderation of any germane amendments
including amendments that would move up the date at which US troops would
begin to return home.
Waters said, "The American people expect leadership from their elected
officials and so far that leadership has been non-existent. We filed the
discharge petition on HJ 55 in order to force the House of
Representatives, the people's House, to debate the Iraq War. The
President and the Republican leadership have refused to fully explain why we are in
Iraq and when our troops will be able to return to their families.
'Staying the course' as the President suggests is an insult to our
soldiers who have served so bravely in Iraq and to their families who
worry every minute about their
Waters listed the ever rising costs of the war: $250 billion, more than
2,070 US troops killed, 15,000 injured, 400 limbs amputated. She pledged
to examine and analyze the "distorted" information
which led us into war, and--with our help--lead us out of Iraq. She
recounted that in only six months, the Out of Iraq Caucus has grown to
include 70 House members of various points of view, but united in the
desire to formulate a strategy to lead America out of Iraq: "All of us
want out of Iraq."
Waters appears on solid ground in her opposition to the war as most polls
show support for the President's policy in Iraq in freefall and his
overall support numbers dropping as well. Among blacks, support for the
war has been low from the start. A 2005 Pew Research poll found blacks
nearly twice as likely as whites to have strong reservations about the
war. And black military recruitment numbers have followed suit with black
enlistment in the Army falling by 40% since 2000 acording to USA Today.
Resolution co-author Abercrombie invited all Republicans, Democrats, and
the lone House Independent Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) to join with the
Representatives in the room supporting an "open rule," allowing any
member to offer any amendment to the resolution. He presented his
"bipartisan approach" as "an opportunity for Republicans to join with
us." He called the resolution a "kick off" on debate and an opportunity
for the American people to demand accountability.
Waters announced that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) will manage the effort
on House Joint Resolution 55. Frank said, "The House ought to be able to
have a debate" on what he called the "single most important issue" facing
the Congress and the nation, and explained this discharge petition would
permit the debate.
Frank dismissed the Bush claims that debate on Iraq policy was
"irresponsible" and rejected the President's excuse for misleading the
Congress and the American people because "other people were wrong, too"
as a "so's-your-mother defense." F rank added that the discharge petition
step would not be necessary "if the Republican [House] Leadership had any
respect for democracy."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx) called the Iraq conflict an
"unconstitutional war" and HJ Resolution 55 the "fix-it resolution." She
said the war is "Vietnam reincarnated", and assured there is "no
division" between this effort and the troops. She said, "This effort is
all about having our people return
from Iraq with dignity and success. This will say to the American People,
your voices are heard." She told of her visits to the troops in Iraq, as
well as hospitals in Germany and the US-- people she called "victims of
Barbara Lee described one such victim in a Germany hospital, a
servicewoman "burned from head to toe" who was only concerned about her
mother. Lee said, "The President misled the Congress with false and
misleading reasons for the war. It's crucial we have this debate."
Lee, Co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus said the White House still
refuses to respond to questions about the Downing Street Minutes despite
signatures from 500,000 Americans and 100 Members of Congress. She was
referring to a petition effort led by Conyers with signatures collected
through the Washington-based Progresive Democrats of America and the
After Downing Street Coalition. She explained that this discharge
petition drive is building on her Resolution of Inquiry. That resolution
would have required answers and demanded accountability from the
administration on pre-war intelligence and other related issues.
Also at the press conference was former presidential candidate Rep.
Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh) who suggested that the Out of Iraq Caucus' effort
be called achieving "an Honorable Discharge from Iraq." Kucinich
countered the Bush talking point, that 'Democrats have no grounds to
question his Iraq policies because they supported it.' Kucinich argued,
"Two-thirds of current House Democrats [and] one-half of current Senate
Democrats opposed the resolution empowering Bush to use force." Kucinich
declared, "Bush can no longer claim he was misled and continue to
mislead." He charged that the American people do not support the war or
this president, and he called this, "the beginning of the end of the
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Oh) said, "Our goal is to have a conversation with
the American people." She raised three keys to the discussion. First,
"Moral Legitimacy: [the USA has] lost that moral edge starting with the
revelations of atrocities at Abu Ghraib, after which casualties doubled."
She stressed that, "in the military slogan 'Honor, Duty, Country' honor
comes first. Second, she claims that the Bush Administration is setting
up a "parallel system" of mercenaries--thousands of "contractors" who
conduct the "questioning" of prisoners and "undermine our military."
Kaptur revealed there could be as many as 100-150,000 "contractors" in
Iraq. Third, she warned of apparent and rumored plans to "hold up" the
Defense Appropriations bill to link the spending on the war and
occupation to spending for all agencies and services-- an effort to "hold
the entire nation hostage" to the Bush war policies.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif) --the other co-chairs of the House
Progressive Caucus--praised grassroots activists for "putting the starch
in the spines" of House Members. She said it's time the Congress started
"hearing the voices of the American People" and pass what she called the
"Homeward Bound" Resolution. She said this discharge petition effort
began in the House with her amendment to the Defense Authorization
requesting the White House articulate some exit
plan or strategy. Her measure was defeated, but gained bipartisan support
and set the stage for Barbara Lee's and Kucinich's Resolutions of
"I believe this war was a mistake from the very beginning," said Rep. Jim
McGovern (D-Mass). "There are two things you can do with a mistake - you
can correct it or you can compound it. HJ Res 55 is an attempt to correct
this mistake by requiring the President to develop and implement a
meaningful plan to end our military involvement in Iraq."
The discharge petition would also open the House floor to other efforts,
including McGovern's HR 4232 which if passed would immediately end
funding for the war. "Both of these [approaches] are better than 'staying
the course,' as the Bush Administration would have us do which would only
compound the mistakes we have made in Iraq," declared McGovern.
Many of those attending the press conference agreed that the world-wide
reputation of the United States is suffering because people around the
globe don't believe we're going to ever leave Iraq. They stressed the
need for ongoing Congressional efforts - with increasing Republican
support - to bar permanent bases and other entanglements with Iraq such
as "sweet heart deals" for oil.