Washington House Democrats rolled out their resolution opposing President Bush's troop increase in Iraq on Monday, setting up a likely rebuke in a political landscape turned upside down since Congress' overwhelming 2002 endorsement of force against Saddam Hussein.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on a resolution by week's end opposing Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. The measure states simply that the House "will continue to support and protect" troops serving in Iraq but "disapproves" of the troop buildup.
Debate was to begin today, and the House vote will mark its first on the war since Democrats won control in the November elections. While the measure is not binding and would not affect the funding of the war, passage would be an embarrassing rejection of Bush's Iraq war policy and could force many Republicans to choose between backing the president or criticizing a deeply unpopular war.
"What the American people want to know is: Does their member of Congress support the president's proposed escalation or do they not?" said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Hoyer, D-Md., said he had heard from about 20 Republicans who said they opposed the troop buildup, and from one Democrat reluctant to support the resolution. The measure's simple language - it totaled just a few dozen words - was crafted to maximize the number of Republicans who would support it and to emphasize support for the troops.
While Democrats predicted the measure would pass easily, Republican leaders tried to refocus debate on the measure in hopes of putting Democrats on the defensive.
"This resolution is the first step in the Democrats' plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm's way, and their leaders have made this abundantly clear," said House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Each of the House's 435 members and five delegates will be allotted five minutes to speak on the issue - stretching the debate until midnight most nights until Friday's vote. Democratic leaders said Monday they planned a weeklong debate that would restrict members to a single vote by week's end, barring any amendments or a GOP alternative.
This week's debate will be in sharp contrast to the one in 2002, which authorized Bush to use force if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.
That debate resulted in solid margins of support from Republicans and Democrats.