With the vast majority of Americans, including people of all political persuasions, supporting a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, it’s high time for Congress to catch up. A bipartisan group of representatives joined forces to put together an amendment to the defense authorization bill voted on this week that would have put the House of Representatives on the record supporting accelerated withdrawal. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee), Ron Paul (R-TX), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Chris Gibson (R-NY) did the painstaking legislative work of finding language everyone could agree on and getting the Democratic leadership on board.
The Republican leadership, however, refused to give the American people’s concerns a hearing on the House floor. They had put language in the NDAA that endorses keeping 68,000 troops on the ground until the end of 2014 (meaning no more withdrawals after this summer), and a “credible force” on the ground after that. They were determined to keep that language, and knew that the McGovern et al amendment would pass.
Rep. McGovern fought passionately against their refusal to allow a vote, holding up the Rules Committee proceedings for an hour in the face of harassment from Republican colleagues.
“Mr. Chairman I think we’ve gotten this, that Mr. McGovern is not happy. I think this is also behavior, that I wonder if people have been out drinking tonight, or whether they are mad or angry or incapable of controlling themselves, and I would question that tonight,” Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, the chairman of the GOP’s campaign committee, said of Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) at a late-night meeting of the House Rules Committee.
“I take offense to that,” McGovern said, according to a transcript of the exchange. “I have an amendment to the rule Mr. Chairman and I would say to the gentleman that you know, there are some issues worth fighting over and for me, ending this war is one of them. And I’m sorry the gentleman doesn’t think that —- take that very seriously.”
Sessions shot back: “Simply asked a question. If the shoe fits.”
Representatives slammed Republican intransigence on this issue on the House floor Thursday morning, including Democratic leaders Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Armed Services Committee member Walter Jones. Rep. McGovern made a last-ditch effort on Thursday to use procedural rules to squeeze in a vote on the amendment, but ultimately Republicans succeeded in squelching the debate on what Rep. Smith rightly called the most important issue in the bill.
We knew there was no good reason for Republicans to block the vote and it came down to fear of letting the American people’s opposition to the war get a vote. CNN spoke to some Republican sources and confirmed as much:
Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass, according to two GOP congressional sources…
…One of the Republican sources stressed that there were a combination of factors for not allowing a vote on the timetable proposal, including “a lack of White House engagement.” GOP leaders expected a bloc of their own members to support the measure and they couldn’t rely on the White House to lobby Democrats against it.
The source stressed Republicans didn’t want to “roll the dice” and have a vote setting firm dates for the administration’s war policy, which would expose significant reservations about the president’s plan, which GOP leaders have largely supported.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who pushed for the vote on the timetable amendment with North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, decried the decision to deny a vote on his proposal on Thursday. “What is the Republican leadership afraid of? Are they afraid a bipartisan majority of this House will vote to follow the will of the American people and change our Afghanistan policy?” he said.
The Republican leaders pulled a sneaky move by allowing a twenty-minute debate and vote on Rep. Barbara Lee’s Afghanistan amendment so they could claim to be giving the issue its due. However, they picked the amendment (which we strongly supported), which limits funding to safe and orderly withdrawal, because they knew its strong position would not have the same level of support. The amendment ultimately failed, 113-303, though it gained more votes than in previous years, including from a number of Republicans. See the roll call here.
While it’s disappointing after all of our grassroots and lobbying work to be denied a vote on the Afghanistan withdrawal amendment, it is a testament to the power of the organizing work the peace movement has done that we have pro-war Republicans running scared. Now we have to let them know this fight isn’t over.