Washington House Republicans maneuvered for swift rejection Friday of any notion of immediately pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, sparking a nasty, sometimes personal debate over the war and a Democratic lawmaker's own call for withdrawal.
Furious Democrats accused the GOP of orchestrating a political stunt, leaving little time for debate and changing the meaning of a withdrawal resolution offered by Democratic Rep. John Murtha, of Pennsylvania.
For those reasons, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent word to the rank-and-file to vote - with the Republicans - against immediate withdrawal of American troops.
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said of the nonbinding resolution, "We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will not retreat."
Democrats went to the House floor to denounce the quick vote before Congress left Washington for two weeks.
"This is a personal attack on one of the best members, one of the most respected members of this House and it is outrageous," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded: "This is not a stunt. This is not an attack on an individual. This is a legitimate question."
GOP leaders decided to act little more than 24 hours after Murtha, a hawkish Democrat with close ties to the military, said the time had come to pull out the troops.
By forcing the issue to a vote, Republicans placed many Democrats in a politically unappealing position - whether to side with Murtha and expose themselves to criticism, or to oppose him and risk angering the voters that polls show want an end to the conflict.
Murtha offered a resolution that would force the president to withdraw the nearly 160,000 troops in Iraq "at the earliest practicable date." It would establish a quick-reaction force and a nearby presence of Marines in the region. It also said the U.S. must pursue stability in Iraq through diplomacy.
But House Republicans planned to put to a vote - and reject - their own resolution that simply said: "It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
With stinging rhetoric, Democrats criticized the GOP alternative. They said House Republican leaders killed Murtha's thoughtful approach.
The fiery, emotional debate climaxed when Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, the most junior member of the House, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.
"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," Schmidt said.
Democrats booed and shouted her down - causing the House to come to a standstill.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that it was an uncalled for personal attack. "You guys are pathetic. Pathetic," yelled Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass.
Most Republicans oppose Murtha's call for withdrawal, and some Democrats also have been reluctant to back his position.