By James Rosen
The House voted down a challenge to President Obama's conduct of the war in Afghanistan Wednesday, rejecting a measure that would have compelled U.S. armed forces to leave the country within 30 days.
Introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the measure failed by a vote of 356-65. Five Republicans joined 60 Democrats in voting for the resolution.
While Kucinich's measure was never expected to pass, it nevertheless marked the first legislative challenge to the Afghan war since Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on December 1. The debate -- and an earlier procedural vote, which saw 225 lawmakers vote to allow the measure to proceed to the House floor -- also revealed the depth of antiwar sentiment among the president's liberal allies in Congress.
"Unless this Congress acts to claim its constitutional responsibility, we will stay in Afghanistan for a very, very long time, at great cost to our troops and to our national priorities," said Kucinich, holding aloft a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, in preliminary remarks on the House floor. "Or we can set a date -- December 31, 2010 -- by which we must leave. And this is exactly what the resolution seeks to do."
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, countered by invoking the memory of Army Specialist Jarrett Griemel, a 20-year-old Texas native and member of the 25th Infantry Division Battalion who died last June from injuries he sustained in Afghanistan.
"He believed in protecting our country," Poe said of Griemel. "He believed in it so much he was willing to leave his wife and go halfway around the world to fight an enemy on the enemy's own turf. And he believed it so much he was willing to give his life for the rest of us. So [if] we pass this resolution, what message do we send to Jared's family or young bride? That his sacrifice just wasn't enough? That it was all for naught? We don't quit war because war is hard. War has always been hard."
Rep. Patrick Kennedy D-R.I., was the most animated lawmaker, at times shouting himself hoarse in support for the Kucinich measure on the House floor.
Some lawmakers crossed party lines to adopt their stance on the Kucinich measure, which had sixteen co-sponsors.
"This war is an illegal war. This war is an amoral war. This war is an unconstitutional war," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. "The consequence of 9/11 will be that we will bog the American people in a no-win war and demoralize the people...The country is totally bankrupt and we're spending billions of dollars on these useless wars...History shows that all empires end because they expand too far and they bankrupt the country, just as the Soviet system came down. And that's what bin Laden was hoping for."
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned his colleagues not to "undermine recent gains" in the war against the terrorist networks. "Have we forgotten what happened to America on 9/11?" Skelton said. "Have we forgotten who did it? Have we forgotten those who protected [al-Aqeda] and gave them a safehaven?" Afghanistan, Skelton said, "is the epicenter of terrorism....After eight long years we have a strategy for success in Afghanistan and we have a president who appointed the right leaders...Success is not guaranteed in this mission. But passing this resolution guarantees failure in Afghanistan and poses a risk -- a serious risk -- that we will once again face the same situation that existed on September 11, 2001."
Supporters of the resolution contended the Obama administration lacks a legal basis under the War Powers Act for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. The 1973 law was enacted in response to repeated escalations of the Vietnam War, by successive White Houses, with limited assent from the Congress. The law requires the president to seek re-authorization from the legislature if he deploys troops for longer than ninety days.
Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Afghanistan in 2001, one week after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Advocates of continued U.S. operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the two major terrorist networks active in Afghanistan, contended the 2001 resolution still provides formal authority for Obama to continue the war effort. That effort is now in its ninth year, with an estimated 1,000 American lives lost.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.