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Jones: A GOP Soloist Who Isn’t Dreaming Big

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Walter Jones Jr. often votes against the wishes of his party leaders, but they have learned that it isn't worth trying to sway him.

"When I walked to the floor, I was not convinced that Saddam [Hussein] was responsible for 9/11. That's what the administration was selling, that he was responsible. I walked to the floor, and in my heart I was not convinced, and in my heart I felt like I should not vote to give President Bush the authority," Jones said. "But my concern on the other hand was that there was so much retired military in the district that did believe what they were selling [and] I didn't have the courage of my convictions," Jones admitted.

For a while after that vote, Jones continued to play the good GOP soldier for the Bush administration. For several years he remained a reliable supporter of the war effort going so far as to join with then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) in 2003 to force the House's food service company to rename French fries "freedom fries" to protest France's opposition to the war.

Privately, however, Jones' resolve was crumbling. The final breakthrough came during a funeral for a soldier who had died in Iraq.

"Seeing the pain of war ... was really a conversion for me," Jones said. Soon after, he began meeting with former generals and critics of the war. The evidence, Jones said, was compelling. Elements of the Bush administration "had manipulated the intelligence" to paint a false picture of Iraq's involvement in terrorism.

Jones had made a mistake, a realization he said devastated him.

"I felt like I had let God down because I am a pro-life Member of Congress. Well, is that 18-, 19- or 20-year-old kid, is he or she a gift from God? Absolutely."

So, in 2005 Jones joined with anti-war lawmakers, including Kucinich, former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), in calling for an end to the war, a decision that would forever change his life and career in Congress.

Conservative commentators attacked him, while Republicans back home began organizing to oust him.

By 2007, Jones who was up for a subcommittee ranking membership slot was officially on the outs. Former Rep. Duncan Hunter Sr. (R-Calif.), then the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, met with Jones and told him he would not get his ranking membership on the committee "because I know you will vote with the Democrats when it comes to Iraq," Jones recalled.

Initially he was disappointed, but Jones felt liberated.

"I'll put it this way, there's a price to pay for anyone ... for doing what you think is right," he said. "And I am at peace with that."

Jones said his opposition to the war has given him the political will to buck leadership on other issues while freeing him up to work on issues he cares about.

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