Republicans Block CBC Resolution Honoring POW

Posted June 12, 2003 at 12:54pm

A move by the Congressional Black Caucus to honor America’s first black female prisoner of war is being thwarted by Republicans, according to caucus members.

CBC spokesman Doug Thornell said Wednesday that a House resolution introduced last week to honor Shoshana Johnson, an Army specialist held by Iraqi forces during the recent Persian Gulf War, is being blocked from appearing on the suspension calendar.

“This resolution is just not going to be brought up for a vote,” he said.

The CBC chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said Wednesday he had hoped the Republican leadership would allow a vote in time for a caucus reception held in Johnson’s honor Thursday.

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), explained the GOP’s reason for not bringing up the bill: “We recognized the POWs who sacrificed so much for our country, last week.”

The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), would not comment on the issue, saying only, “I want to avoid anything that would bring political discussion into [Thursday’s] ceremony.”

With Republicans arguing that no individual POW should be singled out, Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) responded that a separate resolution recognizing Johnson is “an opportunity to place into the history books the role of an African-American.”

He added, “It takes on some significance because of the context, that African-Americans and women have not always been included in the military.”

Republicans might be blocking the resolution from coming to the floor in “retaliation for some of the things that took place on the floor last week,” Thornell said, adding, “I would hope that this isn’t a partisan conflict.”

Cummings said he did not know why the resolution was not on the calendar. “You’ll have to ask the Republican leadership that,” he said.

When asked, Grella said last week’s Democratic attempts to disrupt floor action were not the reason. “That is so long gone,” he said.

Over the past several weeks, Democrats have been using procedural maneuvers to force the GOP to bring up the minority’s priorities. While they did not succeed, Democrats forced Republicans to defend their rules on such bills as the child tax credit and unemployment insurance.

American POWs, Grella said, were already recognized collectively in a previous House resolution. “Clearly we don’t want to exclude anyone.”

A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said his panel told the Republican leadership it would not take up the Johnson resolution.

“We said, ‘No thanks,” said Harald Stavenas.

“We’ve previously had at least one other request for a specific POW, and we turned down that one as well,” he said, adding that the first request was to honor Pfc. Jessica Lynch. “The decision as made to treat all POWs exactly the same.”

Thornell said the resolution honoring Johnson was not an attempt to single her out. “We’re not saying what she did was any more or less brave or courageous than what the other men and women did over there. We think all of them should be commended for serving their country. We would be happy to vote on resolutions honoring each and every one of the prisoners of war,” he said.

Wynn argued that blacks’ historic contributions have not always been acknowledged. “For so many years, our history, our recognitions have all been excluded,” he said.

Cummings said to honor Johnson is to send a message to the world. “We consider every single American life to be of extreme value. We leave no one behind.”

Thornell also said the CBC resolution would tell the world that Iraqi attempts to humiliate the Army specialist had failed. “We feel like the least we can do as Members of Congress is pass the resolution in her honor.”

He added, “I think it’s pretty outrageous that we can find time on the suspension calendar to honor a baseball player,” but not Johnson.

Grella said for Republicans, “It’s most important that we do the right thing.”