The House leadership had a golden opportunity to make the Democrats put up or shut up tonight, and I’m afraid they blew it. Rep. John Murtha offered a resolution demanding surrender in Iraq within six months (at least, that’s how the New York Times describes it; I haven’t seen the actual text, and news reports have varied.) If the House leadership had precipitated a vote on what Murtha actually proposed, we could have had a useful moment of clarity. Instead, however, they scheduled a vote on a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal, which was how Murtha’s resolution was widely reported, but, apparently, not quite what it said. That gave the Democrats an easy out; they opposed it, and it failed overwhelmingly (403-3 is the last tally I’ve seen.)
So nothing was accomplished. And the debate, needless to say, was less than edifying. The Democrats mainly expressed outrage over the vicious personal attacks on Murtha by the President and Vice-President–which, of course, never occurred. The Republicans made a little more sense, but, given that the entire vote was a charade, no one will care. The bottom line, I’m afraid, is that it was a missed opportunity.
UPDATE: “At the earliest predictable date” is apparently the language Murtha actually used. That’s a meaningless phrase. The earliest predictable date would mean, I suppose, starting tomorrow. Nevertheless, it was a bad tactical mistake for the Republican leadership not to use Murtha’s own language. Let the Democrats struggle to explain what it was supposed to mean. As it is, they were easily able to wriggle off the hook.
FURTHER UPDATE: Murtha’s resolution actually says “earliest practicable date,” which makes more sense and is essentially the same as “immediate withdrawal.” The reporting on this has been abysmal.