Democrats unveiled a resolution on Monday that would formally express the House's disapproval of US President George W. Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, beginning an intense debate and political struggle that is to end in a vote on Friday.
The nonbinding resolution, two simple clauses that also express support for the troops, is expected to pass with overwhelming Democratic support but also with a bloc of votes from Republicans increasingly disenchanted with the administration's Iraq policy.
"I'm just not convinced that deploying 20,000 additional troops is going to resolve anything favorable for us," said Republican Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina, who estimated that 20 to 25 Republicans would vote for the resolution, although other estimates ran higher.
Republicans who take umbrage at those who break ranks, he said, need to face political reality.
"We lost our majority in the Congress last November primarily because of the issue of the Iraq war," he said, adding that telephone calls and letters to his office were critical of the conduct of the war by a ratio of 10 to 1.
Republican leaders tried to hold the line.
In an interview on Monday with C-Span, Bush suggested that he would not be focused on the week's discussions on Capitol Hill.
"In terms of watching the debate, I've got a lot to do," he said. "It's not as if the world stops when the Congress does."
Representative John Boehner, the Republican leader, said the Democrats' resolution was "the first step in the Democrats' plan to cut off funding for American troops who are in harm's way."
He urged consideration of an alternative resolution that renounces any cuts in financing.
Democrats scoffed at the Republican charges as an attempt to distract from the fundamental debate over Bush's war strategy.
"They're trying to do everything but focus on the policy," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Caucus. "The more there's a focus on the escalation, the more they lose Republicans."
Democrats were planning 36 hours of floor debate, beginning yesterday, showcasing military veterans.
Party leaders expressed confidence that "a strong majority of the House" would vote for the resolution, said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats were intent on avoiding the procedural and political stalemate that stymied debate over Iraq in the Senate last week; in the House, the Democratic majority has much greater control over what legislation comes to a vote, and Democratic leaders intended to use it.
They are expected to block a vote on a Republican alternative.
The House resolution is co-sponsored by Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Tom Lantos, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; and Walter Jones of North Carolina, a longtime Republican critic of the war.
It declares the House to be resolved that "Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq" and that "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."
Both sides foreshadowed a bitter debate.
Republican talking points, circulated in the House, warn that a "nonbinding resolution weakens morale" and "gives comfort to the enemy."
But for many lawmakers, this will also be an intensely personal choice. Republican Representative Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland said he had no qualms with breaking with his party on this issue. He had attended 21 funerals in his district for service members who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said. Two more were scheduled for this week.
"This is not about my party," said Gilchrest, who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star as a Marine in Vietnam. "This is not about party politics. This is about your conscience, your soul, your mind, your heart, your gut."
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