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Public Statements

30-Something Working Group

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - June 25, 2007)

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Well, let me first and foremost congratulate the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek), and Mr. Ryan and Mrs. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Murphy for continuing to come to the floor, the 30-somethings, and talk about issues that are so important to this country. There is no more important issue before this Congress or this country, than the war in Iraq.

There is no more important issue to the American public. But it is clear, and I think General Odom stated it best, because as the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek) pointed out, this Congress, with its small Democratic majorities, has done what it can to end the war in Iraq and put a bill on the President's desk. The President opted to veto that bill. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle opted to stay the course with the President of the United States.

As General Odom says, and I quote, ``The end game will start when a senior senator from the President's party, or a senior Member from the House of Representatives, much as William Fulbright did to LBJ during Vietnam, stands up and says no, stands up and says let's end the war.''

Let's create the kind of strategic withdrawal that we need in order to preserve our troops, in order to maintain our military's readiness, in order to bring sanity back into the lives, especially the reservists and the National Guard who have put out so much for us. We are going to go home at the end of this week and celebrate the Fourth of July while our troops are slugging it out there, while this administration goes through some endgame strategy where they sound like the Bobbsey twins getting together and say, ``Well, now, all of a sudden, September 15 is only a snapshot of perhaps what will happen.'' A snapshot.

To the men and women who are putting their lives on the line every single day, it's time to end the war. That will only happen in this House of Representatives and in the United States Senate, as was pointed out by General Odom, when Members on the other side of the aisle recognize that they have to stand up and say ``no'' to the President. They hint about it. They talk about it.

Meanwhile, while they dither, we lost more than 23 soldiers this past weekend. How much longer can the insanity continue here without a strategy that provides us with the strategic withdrawal to an over-the-horizon force as has been advocated on this floor by colleagues on both sides of the aisle? Why is it that Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate who has the nerve on the Republican side to talk about it without fear of being called unpatriotic or in fact booed in an audience?

This Chamber should be a chamber where we have the opportunity to speak truth to power. Thank God for people like Wayne Gilchrest. Thank God for people like Walter Jones. But Members on the other side of the aisle need to join with this majority so that we can create an override if the President remains obstinate, along with the Vice President, in this myopic pursuit of victory. Victory. No definition of what ``victory'' is, other than ``staying there for as long as it takes.'' We see that the Iraqi government is not living up to its proposals, that the surge is an entire failure. Yet, people come to the floor and people present in the newspapers arguments that somehow the surge might work, what it just needs is a little more time, or perhaps what it needs is even more troops.

It is time to end this war. It is time to make sure that we have people on the other side of the aisle that are willing to speak truth to power and face up to the fact that it is in the best interest of our country, that it is the very American thing to do, to stand up for our troops, to provide for our families that are here at home worried sick about the prospect of sending their loved ones into this insurgent civil war nightmare we have come to call Iraq.

The American public is way ahead of this Chamber, way ahead of the Senate. We plead with our colleagues, especially as we go forward to this July 4 weekend, to find the courage of our forebears and to stand up, since we are the body that decides on war. You have Senator Warner saying that he ought to reconsider the authorization of this war, to do what they did in Vietnam, to recognize that the Congress, during that era, stood up and deauthorized the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that put an end to an unjust war.

We know now, of course, that we found no weapons of mass destruction. We know now that we had no exit strategy. We know now that this administration's closest adviser that they took into their bosom was Ahmed Chalabi, who ultimately ends up saying, ``So what? I lied to you. So what? I lied to you. You got what you wanted. You had a civil war in your country. The Iraqis are going to have to have a civil war in their country.''

Americans soldiers, men and women who have served this country with honor, go over there to fulfill their duty to their country. We have a duty and a responsibility here to make sure that we are doing everything within our power to make sure that they are safe and secure. Instead, we have stuck them in the middle of a civil war. The military objectives of this war have long since been accomplished. It is time to bring the troops home.

I commend Mr. Meek and Mr. Ryan for having come to this floor day in and day out and discussed this thing. But we have to turn it up. Especially for those of you in our viewing audience, continue to turn it up at home. Turn up the conversation and the dialogue that so many have taken to the streets, to protest, to talk about moving other Members of this great body to come and arrive at the same conclusion that most Americans have. It is time for the safe, secure and strategic withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield for a moment, I thank you again, because I do want to say that Frank Rich wrote an important column in The New York Times yesterday, and it is one that I will submit for the record. I think it also lays it out pretty clearly.

I would like to quote here. First he is quoting retired General William Odom. ``For the Bush White House, the real definition of victory has become `anything they can get away with without taking blame for defeat,' said the retired Army General William Odom, a national security official in the Reagan and Carter administrations,'' when Frank Rich spoke to him most recently. ``The plan is to run out the Washington clock between now and January 20, 2009, no matter the cost.''

``A precipitous withdrawal is also a chimera, since American manpower, material and bases, not to mention our new Vatican-sized embassy, can't be drawn down overnight.''

And here is the important thing that I think Mr. Rich says. ``The only real choice, everyone knows, is an orderly plan for withdrawal that will best serve American interests. The real debate must be over what that plan is. That debate can't happen as long as the White House gets away with falsifying reality, sliming its opponents and sowing hyped fears of Armageddon. The threat that terrorists in a civil war-torn Iraq will follow us home if we leave is as bogus as Saddam's mushroom clouds. The al Qaeda that actually attacked us on 9/11 still remains under the tacit protection of our ally, Pakistan.

``As General Odom says, `the endgame will start when a senior senator from the President's party says no,' much like William Fulbright did. That's why in Washington this fall,'' he goes on to say, ``eyes will turn once again to John Warner, the senior Republican with the clout to give political cover to other members of his party who want to leave Iraq before they are forced to evacuate Congress. In September, it will nearly be a year since Mr. Warner said that Iraq was `drifting sideways' and that action would have to be taken if this level of violence is not under control and this government is able to function.

``Mr. Warner has also signaled his regret that he was not more outspoken during Vietnam. `We kept surging in those years,' he told The Washington Post in January, as the Iraq surge began. `It didn't work.' Surely,'' Rich goes on to say, ``he must recognize that his moment for speaking out about this war is overdue. Without him, the Democrats don't have the votes,'' and I repeat, without Republicans, ``the Democrats don't have the votes to force the President's hand. With him, it's a slam-dunk. The best way to honor the sixth anniversary of 9/11,'' as we take up this week the 9/11 Commission response, ``is to at last disarm a President who continues to squander countless lives in the names of those voiceless American dead.''

Mr. Speaker, I include the entire Frank Rich article for the Record.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. As you have said on more than one occasion on the floor, Mr. Ryan, what we have needed all along here is a diplomatic surge, not a military surge. It is such a shame that we have abandoned so much of American foreign policy. In fact, more than 50 years of American foreign policy that were centered around deterrence, diplomacy and containment. Instead, we went into the wrong-headed policies of preemption and unilateralism, which have brought us to the quagmire that we are in today.

It breaks my heart to travel with Jack Murtha to Bethesda and see the young men and women who are there, who have become the heroes, of course, in our country, but victims of a myopic, failed strategy with no exit in sight.

How much longer can the American public, or for that matter, this body, put up with the slogans that ``we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up,'' when more of our troops are needed and less Iraqis continue to join us; when they decide that they are going to take the next couple of months off while we slog it out in a civil war?

Our soldiers don't know in many respects who the enemy is over there, because oftentimes they are getting played, one religious sect against another, settling ages of old scores rather than accomplishing any kind of goal of establishing a democracy or establishing a government or people that are going to stand up so that we can stand down.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. You have been resilient in making this point, but I want to amplify a point you made, if I might. Again, I think Frank Rich says it fairly well. I think he puts a great deal of responsibility on Senator Warner.

Mr. MEEK of Florida. This is the article you referred to earlier.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. The article in the New York Times written by Frank Rich.

I think Mr. Warner has been on record publicly for having stated what he has. You mentioned the fact that this House has accomplished a tremendous amount, including, and I know you are going to reiterate it with your charts, including a number of agenda items that were accomplished in the first 100 legislative hours.

Mr. MEEK of Florida. That's correct.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. But over in the Senate, and most of the general public isn't aware of this, they have a cloture rule. Cloture in the Senate means it takes 60 votes in order to pass something, which is why Mr. Rich in his article prevails upon Mr. Warner, a senior Republican, to rein in Mr. McConnell. Now Mitch McConnell in the Senate has indicated that they continue to be obstructionists. Almost every single vote that has taken place over in the Senate, every single issue becomes a cloture vote which means that there are 60 votes needed in order to pass. Of course with only 50 Democrats in the United States Senate, that becomes impossible. So they become the obstructionist not only in the effort to strategically withdraw our troops and support the military and to revert back to a policy that makes sense, but also on every other issue that Democrats have been able to bring before and pass in this House of Representatives.

So, Mr. Meek, I am pleased to join with you this evening and thank you for coming to the floor with this.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Meek, I think you have made your point extraordinarily well. I especially want to commend, especially for the viewers and listeners who regularly tune in when the 30-Something Group comes to the floor, first and foremost, call up and thank courageous people like Walter Jones, Republican from North Carolina; Wayne Gilchrest, Republican from Maryland; Ron Paul, Republican from Texas, who more often than not sit almost isolated, almost ostracized on the other side of the aisle. And it is not that they don't have the respect of their colleagues, because I believe sincerely they do. What they should know is that they have the respect of America because they are willing to stand up and speak truth to power.

There are many of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle who would stand with them. Loyalty is important in any process, and certainly one can respect loyalty. Loyalty and fidelity are important concepts and in fact can be virtues. But when there is blind allegiance, and especially when men and women's lives are at stake, where is your voice? Will you stand together to have this institution, the United States Congress, stand up together, collectively, put an end to the war, find a process by which we together can end the war and provide, as you point out, as the most recent veterans' bill that we passed does, the greatest increase in 77 years for veterans, so that we provide the assistance to these brave men and women who have given their all. And also to provide the compassion and the caring for their family members who wait at home wondering what kind of policy is going to unfold here for them to see Congress bogged down the way it is in the obstinacy of an administration that says it is just going to run out the clock on its policy is wrong.

As Mr. Rich points out, if not Mr. Warner, then who? And certainly we have heard the Walter Joneses and the Wayne Gilchrests and the Ron Pauls in the House, but we need other brave Members who have found their voice who are able when they go back home to listen to their fellow citizens and then come to this floor and join with those men of character and stand up for what they know is right.

We know that Mr. Warner is thinking about it. We know he is talking about September. Twenty-three soldiers lost their lives this weekend. For people who are serving, tomorrow is today. The urgency is now. Find your voice prior to this July 4, strike a tone of independence from the administration that has got us here.

Historically this happened to a Democratic President during Vietnam. It is not about Democrats or Republicans. It is about America, and it is about standing up for our troops in the field. It is about standing up for fellow Americans. It is about Americans finding their voice. Our citizens have found theirs. We need the Members of Congress here to join together, both House and Senate, to end this insanity and come together on behalf of the American public, and especially the brave men and women who serve our country so valiantly who we owe such a debt of gratitude to, and ought to show it through the courage of our policy convictions here on the floor, and then in the funding that we provide them to make sure that they have the kind of life that they richly deserve when they come home, and that we honor the memory of their sacred sacrifice that so many have made on behalf of this Nation.

I thank the gentleman again from the 30-Somethings for having continued to bring this debate to the American public.

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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Ellen Tauscher has done a terrific job.

If the gentleman would yield just for a moment, when you're reading through these things, I can't help but think of the time, and I know that you hadn't arrived here on September 11. I served with your mom. I can remember a time when this entire Congress stood together on the steps of the Capitol after September 11 and spontaneously broke into God Bless America. It's a time that will be forever seared in my memory.

I remember a time in our caucus just this past year when the Speaker, the gentleman from New York, stood up, at a time when we knew that we only had and could only muster Democratic votes, stood up and gave a speech that I will always remember, that drew our caucus together and allowed us to go forward and place a bill on the President's desk. It was something that everyone said couldn't be done, the politics were too raw, people were too far apart, we couldn't possibly come together. But when people rise and find their voice as the Speaker from New York did, then great things can happen. A Nation can move. People find their voice because within their heart resides the great spirit of this country as you pointed out. Within every piece of legislation that you're chronicling here is a deep-seated belief on the part of its sponsors that this is the right thing to do. There are many on that side of the aisle who will disagree. I respect people's positions regardless of how they come to them. But I know the great reservoir that exists on that side of the aisle that understands what's going on, that events are unfolding daily around us and the need for us to act is now. That tomorrow has become today, that the urgency can't wait for September 15 for yet another report. The time is to act.

I plead for our colleagues on that side of the aisle, because, as Mr. Rich points out, it cannot happen without this Congress coming together. And so either we will stand together as a United States Congress and send a message and help this President find a way forward by demonstrating as a Congress did during Vietnam, no matter who the President is, that the right thing to do here is to bring our troops home safe, secure and strategically in a manner that will allow us to regroup and refocus and go after the enemy in Afghanistan where they continue to fester and grow and regroup, the people who actually knocked down the towers, the people who struck the Pentagon and but for those brave souls on Flight 93 would have surely hit this Capitol or the White House. It's time for us to come together in that spirit.

Mr. Meek, if it weren't for you and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Chris Murphy and Tim Ryan coming here and repeatedly talking about it, if you're at home, you're thinking, has Congress forgot about this urgency. Do they not pick up the papers every day as we do? When I go home, and you said it, people talk about Iraq, they talk about Iraq, and then they talk about Iraq. The facts are that without Republican support, we cannot override a veto. The facts are that without a Republican Senate that will stop the cloture rule and Mr. Warner, or following the paths of a great American in Chuck Hagel, comes forward and speaks truth to power. There are people on both sides of the aisle that are great visionary Americans. We just need to come together at this time and find our voice in the same manner that Americans have already found theirs.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I thank you again.

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