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House Democrats Overwhelmingly Vote Against Funding Combat Operations in Iraq (Updated)

Lee is leading the antiwar effort in the House. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Lee is leading the antiwar effort in the House. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:57 |  With President Barack Obama grappling with how to respond to the escalating violence in Iraq and the rapid rise of an insurgent terrorist organization there, House Democrats have spoken: They overwhelmingly want to cut off funding for combat in the region, especially boots on the ground.  

Late Thursday, 142 Democrats and a handful of Republicans joined forces behind an amendment to the fiscal 2015 defense appropriations bill that would have barred any spending on combat operations in Iraq.  

The amendment failed 165-250, but the overwhelming Democratic support for the provision signals a Congress increasingly weary of war. Three members of Democratic leadership voted for the amendment: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, both of California, plus Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York.  

Moderate Democrats and those in tough re-election campaigns joined them: Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Ami Bera of California and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, to name a few.  

And one of the three co-chairmen of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, also voted “yes.”  

“We must not let history repeat itself in Iraq,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the lead sponsor of the amendment who has opposed U.S. military intervention in the region from the very beginning, in a statement. “The reality is there is no military solution in Iraq. This is a sectarian war with long standing roots that were flamed when we invaded Iraq in 2003. Any lasting solution must be political and take into account respect for the entire Iraqi population.”  

Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Peace and Security Task Force, was backed by CPC co-chairmen Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Reps. Janice Hahn of California and Rick Nolan of Minnesota were also lead co-sponsors.  

Of the 44 Democrats who voted “no,” on the amendment, four were Democratic leaders: Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.  

Hoyer told CQ Roll Call that given the instability in Iraq right now, it wasn’t the right time to tie the administration’s hands.  

“I think we’re in a particular unstable situation right now in Iraq and indeed in Syria, as well,” Hoyer said. “And I think it was time to sort of take stock and not to take actions with the context of what is a very volatile situation.”  

Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t think airstrikes should be ruled out, as Obama on Thursday afternoon announced he was prepared to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq and launch attack against the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  

Other Democrats to vote “no” were two veterans, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.  

Duckworth told CQ Roll Call that she has a unique understanding of war that allowed her to see the multiple dimensions of the amendment blocking funding for combat in Iraq.  

“When people talk about, for example, airstrikes, and say, ‘Oh, we’ll just send in some fighter gets and they can do some airstrikes and that’ll be fine,’ well, if you’re gonna send in airstrikes, then you need a contingency team ready to go in case you have a down aviator, and I know a little something about being shot down over Iraq,” said Duckworth, who lost both legs during her military service. “You need to have that team ready to go and come in and pull that pilot out if you need to pull him out if he gets shot down. You gotta have maybe special forces or some targeting team that can get all the targets on the ground, and that’s forces on the ground.”That amendment was just broad,” she continued. “It said, ‘No, none whatsoever,’ and I feel like that would then leave our fighter pilots and our drone operators and our special forces vulnerable because we couldn’t support them.”  

Another “no” vote came from Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y.  

“After two long wars the American people are tired and weary, and so am I, and the Iraq war was fed to us on a lie and with faulty information,” Engel said Friday. “Forty-four hundred Americans died, a trillion dollars and people want us out of there, and so do I.  

But recent events, Engel conceded, “gives us pause to have absolutes. I do not think this is time for absolutes.”  


Editor’s note: The original first paragraph of this story was updated to make references to the proposed legislation more specific.