Jackson Lee to Offer Iraq Plan to Divided Caucus

Posted March 25, 2003 at 7:08pm

In a move that some fear could create political controversy for House Democrats divided in a time of war, one lawmaker may ask her fellow Democrats today to unify on a vote on how to move forward now that military action has begun in Iraq.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), who successfully sought a special Caucus meeting, said she’ll ask her party to engage in a discussion about the war, and perhaps reach a consensus on how the United States moves forward afterward. Before the war began, Lee proposed for Caucus consideration six alternatives to military action.

“The focus is to listen to my colleagues and look at the issues of consensus,” she said. “I don’t want to project now about an up-or-down vote.”

Any vote on the war, however, could spark controversy in the deeply divided Caucus. Democratic House leaders, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have remained adamant that the Caucus not stake out a unified position on the war.

Pelosi has long held that the war is a vote of conscience.

Lee, who said she supports the troops but has remained against the war, said she recognizes that Members’ positions on the war are firm, and she won’t ask them to revisit that stance. But she believes Members must discuss how to move forward — both in message and in action — in the Middle Eastern country.

“The key theme is the next step,” she said.

“I’d like to allow my colleagues in the Caucus to look at a range of options and get enough Members to say they want to look for keeping the peace,” Lee said.

In particular, she has laid out a list of options for consideration. They include: continuing pressure against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm; establishing through the United Nations a war-crimes tribunal to indict Hussein; creating a coalition of troops to enforce U.N. weapons inspections; increasing humanitarian aid to Iraq; reinvigorating the Mideast peace process; and seeking a renewed coalition with the United Nations to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and government.

One Democratic leadership aide said Lee’s suggestions are “all very valid” and she’s putting forth ideas that should be discussed. But the staffer feared “to the outside it could seem as an effort to undermine the president.”

But several other top Democratic aides worried any vote on any aspect of the war could be damaging to both the Caucus and the party, given the conflict has already begun and Americans overwhelmingly back U.S. efforts in the Persian Gulf nation.

“It’s a horrible idea,” said one senior Democratic aide. “She’s not only trying to establish a Caucus position, but she’s trying to establish a wrong one.”

That same aide noted that several other Members have wanted to offer resolutions on the war, but ultimately decided against the idea given the division in the Caucus.

Last year, some 126 Democrats voted against authorizing President Bush to pursue military action against Iraq. And, last week, 21 voted present and 11 voted against a resolution supporting the troops and the commander in chief.

“This isn’t helpful,” one Democratic aide said of the vote. “There are very different positions on the war and there’s not a Democratic consensus on it. We need to be united to support the troops.”