WASHINGTON -- After a day and a half of emotional debate, the House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to affirm President Bush's policies in the Iraq war and to reject a specific timetable for withdrawing American troops.
With key elections determining control of Congress less than five months away, Republicans portrayed their Democratic counterparts as lacking the stomach to do what is necessary in Iraq to keep the terrorists at bay. Democrats, by contrast, said Republicans were blindly following a president who has been proven wrong time and time again.
"This week's debate has given us all an opportunity to answer a fundamental question: Are we going to confront the threat of terrorism and defeat it, or will we relent and retreat in the hopes that it just goes away?" asked Majority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican. "Achieving victory is our only option, for the sake of the American people and for our children and grandchildren."
By contrast, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California mocked the resolution as "vacuous" and scoffed at the notion that lawmakers who voted against the measure were undermining the troops.
"Stay the course? I don't think so Mr. President," Pelosi said. "It's time to face the facts. On every important aspect on the war in Iraq, the president and his advisers have been wrong."
Republicans said it was significant that the final vote included so many Democrats.
"We are pleased that 42 Democrats defied their leadership and stood with House Republicans to support both our troops and their mission to win the global war on terror," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.
But nearly twice as many Democrats voted for the original authorization of force in Iraq in 2002, a sharp erosion of support.
Maryland's House delegation voted along party lines. The two Republicans, Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest, supported it. All six Democrats - Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen and Albert R. Wynn - opposed it.
Cardin, who voted against authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq in late 2002, called on the president this week to begin bringing troops home immediately. After yesterday's vote, he said Congress had missed an opportunity to have a real debate about the war.
Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat who is running for his party's nomination in the race to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, said he was not concerned that his vote might be used against him in the campaign.
"It's time to change the policy in Iraq," he said. "That's the message I think Americans happen to agree with right now, but it also happens to be the right policy."
Gilchrest, who was seriously wounded as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam, has become one of a small group of Republicans who have pressed their colleagues, and the White House, to change course in Iraq. Gilchrest, from the Eastern Shore, called the debate "ugly" and "to some extent, foolhardy." But he said he remains optimistic that he and other lawmakers can create an environment in which they can talk about ending the war without making it a partisan issue.
"We have to try," he said. "I think it's a matter of diplomacy with our colleagues." Three Republicans, John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Jim Leach of Iowa and Ron Paul of Texas, voted against the resolution, while Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan voted present.
McCotter called the resolution "strategically nebulous, morally obtuse and woefully inadequate." He also said it did nothing to provide the public an honest assessment of the "situation, stakes and strategy for victory in the battle for Iraq and the overarching war on terror."
Though their language was pointed and their positions firm, lawmakers managed to keep the debate civil despite complaints from Rep. John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, about some Republicans taking a "sanctimonious" tone.
Murtha, a hawk on military issues who came to oppose the war in Iraq, said it is "easy to stay in an air-conditioned office and say, 'I'm going to stay the course.'"
Jill Zuckman writes for the Chicago Tribune. Sun reporter Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed to this article.