WASHINGTON -- The House yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a nonbinding resolution calling for an immediate troop withdrawal -- a measure engineered by the Republicans that was intended to fail. Democrats derided the vote as a political stunt.
''Our troops have become the enemy. We need to change direction in Iraq," said Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Democratic hawk whose call a day earlier for pulling out troops sparked a nasty, personal debate over the war.
The House defeated the resolution, 403 to 3.
''We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will not retreat," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, said as the GOP leadership pushed the issue to a vote over the Democrats' protest. It was the second time in less than a week that President Bush's Iraq policy stirred heated debate in Congress. On Tuesday, the Senate defeated a Democratic push for Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal.
Murtha, a 73-year-old Marine veteran decorated for combat service in Vietnam, issued his call for a troop withdrawal at a news conference on Thursday. In little more than 24 hours, Hastert and Republicans put the question to the House.
Democrats said it was a political stunt and quickly decided to vote against it in an attempt to drain it of significance.
''A disgrace," said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. ''The rankest of politics and the absence of any sense of shame," said Representative Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland.
Republicans hoped to place Democrats in an unappealing position -- either supporting a withdrawal that critics said would be precipitous, or opposing it and angering voters who want an end to the conflict. They also hoped the vote could restore GOP momentum regarding the war in Iraq, whose support by the public has plummeted in recent weeks.
Democrats claimed Republicans were changing the meaning of Murtha's withdrawal proposal. He has said a smooth withdrawal would take six months.
At one point, Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio, 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. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran. Democrats booed and shouted her down, causing the House to come to a standstill.
Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making uncalled-for personal attacks. ''You guys are pathetic! Pathetic!" yelled Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat. Democrats gave Murtha a standing ovation as he entered the chamber.
The fireworks occurred just days after the GOP-controlled Senate defeated a Democratic push for Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Spotlighting questions from both parties about the war, senators approved a statement that 2006 should be a significant year in which conditions are created for the phased withdrawal of US forces.
Murtha has proposed 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 United States must pursue stability in Iraq through diplomacy. The Republican alternative simply said: ''It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
''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 Representative James P. McGovern, a Worcester Democrat.