Republicans not the only ones taking heat on Iraqby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
As debate over the U.S. military role in Iraq continues today in the U.S. Senate, several anti-war groups and Democrats are lobbying Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to change his position on the war. But Republicans aren't the only ones feeling pressure on the war. Some rank and file Democratic voters are expressing frustration that the Democratic majority in Congress isn't doing enough to end the war.
St. Paul, Minn. — Make no mistake, the Democratic voters who have expressed their concerns to Minnesota Public Radio News about the war in Iraq direct most of their criticism at President Bush. But they also say Democrats in Congress aren't putting enough pressure on the president to end the war.
"The Democrats need to start using a backbone," said Barbra Peterson of Sandstone. Peterson, who is a member of the DFL Feminist Caucus, says she attends weekly peace protests in Mora with the hopes that the war will end. She's frustrated that Democrats haven't done more since they took office in January.
"We worked hard two years ago to get them in office to take over the House and take over the Senate and we're not seeing results," she said.
Peterson describes herself as an unhappy Democrat who isn't ready to leave the party. Pete Gavlin, of Eden Prairie, who has voted for Democrats in the past, says he is open to voting for an independent in the next election.
Gavlin says Democrats in Congress are doing what he calls "little political nothings" over the war. Gavlin, who served in the 101st Airborne, doesn't think a total troop withdrawal is the answer. But he says U.S. troops should not be engaged in what he considers a civil war in Iraq. President Bush vetoed a war spending bill in May that would have forced a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. But Gavlin says Democrats, who control both chambers in Congress, didn't stand up to that veto.
"They haven't stood their ground," Gavlin said. "They could have sent that bill on a scheduled return of their troops, they could have sent that back to him again and again and again and let him stand out there with the veto and let him be put on the spot for the veto. And have that become the discourse and the focus."
The unhappiness of core Democratic voters like Gavlin and Peterson show the difficulty Democrats are having with the war in Iraq. Democrats are trying to balance the concerns of rank and file voters who helped give them control of Congress against the political reality that they don't have enough Senate votes to overcome a filibuster and are facing a president ready to veto their initiatives.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., says he understands the frustration.
"It's not enough progress," Ellison said. "We need more progress. We need them to keep the pressure on."
Ellison has been one of the most outspoken critics of the war during last year's election. He also received a heavy dose of criticism from anti-war activists after he voted for a spending bill that could have brought an end to the war over the next year and a half. That's not soon enough for some anti-war activists. Ellison says it's difficult to balance his personal desire to end the war immediately with the political realities of working to pass legislation in Congress.
"There are some people who are upset but that's just the way it is" Ellison said. "You can't please everybody. No matter what you do some people are going to be unhappy and dissatisfied. Sometimes they'll want to blame somebody and sometimes it's the politician who they used to support who isn't moving as fast as they want."
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he's pleased to see vocal dissatisfaction from key supporters. He says it's better than a silent, detached pessimism on the issue. For his part, Walz said many Democratic rank and file voters may have believed that the end of the war would be an event rather than a process.
"I'm just as frustrated as them but we still have a constitutional Democracy," Walz said. "We voted to have a reasonable plan. The president vetoed it. I voted to override it. I voted against the surge. The president went ahead with it."
Walz said President Bush's policy is not working. He says dividing the country among the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds may now be the best approach especially since the country is moving in that direction already.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also urged patience when it comes to the war. She said the recent round of Senate votes ordering combat to end next spring is forcing the issue among key Republicans who are now questioning President Bush's war plans.
"I think the fact that we're pushing votes over and over and over again is what is starting to make a difference," Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar said she has not talked to Sen. Norm Coleman about the issue. Coleman is being targeted by anti-war groups and Democrats to switch his policy on Iraq. He has expressed concerns about President Bush's Iraq policy but wants to wait until a military progress report is given in September before he will make a change in policy.
- Morning Edition, 07/12/2007, 7:50 a.m.