Mikulski Answers Protesters: 'Follow Me to My Grave' - Southern Maryland Headline News

Mikulski Answers Protesters: 'Follow Me to My Grave'

Mikulski Equates Continued Funding For Iraq Occupation With Supporting The Troops

By HALLIE C. FALQUET, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski took to the Senate floor Thursday to respond to anti-war activists who occupied her Capitol Hill office in protest three times in four weeks, saying she will continue to vote for war funding in order to support the troops.

"You can sit-in every single day. You can follow me throughout my Senate career. You can follow me to my grave," Mikulski shouted at the conclusion of her speech on a supplemental funding request pending in Congress.

"I will not vote to, in any way, harm the men and women in the U.S. military, nor will I cut off the support to their families...I'm going to support this (Democratic Leader Harry) Reid resolution."

While the bill provides money to support President Bush's proposed troop surge, it also funds tools, such as body armor, and health care for when the troops return home.

"All the good things in the bill we absolutely agree with, (but) you don't need to keep funding active combat to keep funding those things," said frustrated protester Gordon Clark in response to Mikulski's speech. "This is ridiculous...(we're) definitely planning to come back."

The group of about 20 protesters contend that even though Mikulski voted against the war in 2002, and continues to speak out for troop withdrawal, the only actions that will end their sit-ins are a "no" vote on the supplemental bill, or the inclusion of an amendment to bring the troops home by December 2007, Clark said.

The supplemental budget bill sets a deadline for troop withdrawal of March 31, 2008.

During the protests in her office, Mikulski, a former activist herself, allowed her constituents to stay and read the names of deceased Maryland soldiers and tape their pictures on the wall, as long as they respected her office staff and the rules of the Senate office building during the three protests staged on Feb. 15, Feb. 27 and March 13.

Four protesters defied the latter request when they refused to leave the office at the 6 p.m. closing time on Feb. 27 and were subsequently arrested by Capitol Hill police for unlawful entry.

Protesters also visited the offices of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as part of a national movement, Voices for Creative Nonviolence's Occupation Project that began Feb. 5 with talks on the emergency supplemental bill.

"We are on your side," Mikulski said to the "well-intentioned liberal activists," but "I can't vote against" the supplemental funding bill.
Excerpts from Senator Mikulski's floor speech:

"It is time for our troops to come home. And it's time for us to bring them home swiftly. But we have a moral obligation and a constitutional obligation to bring them home safely. This is why I support the Reid resolution.

"This resolution states clearly that the Congress and the American people support our troops. Yet, at the same time, we're saying 'bring the troops home by March 31, 2008.' Unlike the reckless incompetency that got us into the war, we're following the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group - wise heads who pondered what were some of the best new ways to go forward. So the Reid resolution sets a framework and a timeline about what needs to be done, yet it assures our troops that we honor their service and we're going to protect them on the battlefield. We're going to make sure they have the resources to do the job, and when they come back home we want to be sure that they have health care, and that they have jobs, and that they have job training.

"Now I'm not new to this position on the war. I never wanted to go to war in the first place - not because I'm a pacifist, though I respect those that are. But I read that national intelligence report. I'm on the Intelligence Committee. I really had very grave suspicions about the level of weapons of mass destruction Saddam had. But I also believed it was the U.N.'s job to go there and to do the work that the U.N. was supposed to do. I opposed giving the President unilateral authority to engage in a preemptive attack. I said the U.S. had to exhaust our diplomatic options and I encouraged the administration at that time to 'please, stick with the U.N.,' so that the U.N. could meet its responsibility to deal with the Saddam threat. I said we shouldn't go on our own and we should work with the U.N. and the international community.

"The day of the vote in 2002, when I spoke, I said I didn't know what lied ahead. I didn't know if our troops would be greeted with flowers or with land mines. Well, now you go to Walter Reed, you go to Naval Bethesda, you talk to the troops coming home from Iraq. We know what we got. When we got there, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but destruction sure happened. We can't ask more of our troops. After four years of fighting, are we better off in Iraq?

"Well, the United States went to war with Iraq. Now we're at war within Iraq. Saddam is gone, we're still there, and now we're in a civil war. And it's time for us to come home. And it's time for us to come home following the Iraq Study Group. We need a new way forward in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group gave us 79 recommendations, surely we could agree on 50. If the administration wasn't being so isolated and so rigid, they would know that it is time to engage the international community, that it is always better to send in the diplomats before you send in the troops. Let's send in the diplomats so that we can bring our troops back home. The Iraq Study Group calls for enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and outside of Iraq. It provides a direction for the U.S. and Iraqi governments to follow that would bring our forces home by the first quarter of 2008. That's what the Reid resolution calls for.

"The Reid resolution sets a goal of bringing all U.S. combat forces home by March 31, 2008, except for limited numbers of troops for force protection, training of Iraqi troops and targeted counterterrorism operations. It would begin a phased redeployment within four months after the passage of this legislation. But it also develops a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic strategy. And finally, this resolution requires the President to report to Congress within 60 days.

"I support the Reid resolution because I believe what the Iraq Study Group said - that the Iraq problems cannot now be solved with a military solution, no matter how brave, no matter how smart. It requires a political solution by the Iraqis and a diplomatic solution with Iraq's neighbors. It says that the Congress and the American people will also support the troops.

"I want this war to end, and I believe this Reid resolution will do that. Yet, in ending the war, it's my responsibility to ensure that our troops are brought home not only swiftly, but safely. I've had people sit-in my office four times during the last few weeks. Four times, people have come to sit-in in my office. Some come to protest. Some come to get arrested. All have a right to speak out.

"They want me to vote against the spending bill for the war. Yet, there is no way that a responsible Senator can vote against spending. There is no one line item that says 'war, yes or no.' That's not the way the supplemental works. That's not the way the Defense budget works. That's not the way our entire budget works. There is no line item vote that says 'war, yes or no.'

"So, I say to the protesters, I say to those well-intentioned activists, know we are on your side, but what are you asking us to vote against? Do you want us to vote against the pay for the Soldiers and for their spouses and for their children? I won't vote 'no' against their benefits. What do you want us to vote against? The bullets and what they need to fight? I won't vote against that. Do you want us to vote against the body armor and the armored Humvees they need for survival? I won't vote against that. What about if they are injured? One of the things that saves lives are the tourniquets on the battlefield. When they are injured, jet fuel gets the helicopters and the planes from Baghdad to Germany to Walter Reed and Bethesda.

"We will clean up Walter Reed. We will fix Bethesda. But they have to get here. When they get here, they need medical care - hats off to acute care. Now we need outpatient care. Now we need the long-term care for the 50 years that these men and women will have left. 22,000 people have Purple Hearts in Iraq. More have been injured than we will ever know, or we will know only years from now.

"I can't vote against funding. To all who are listening, you can sit-in every single day; you can follow me throughout my Senate career; you can tail me to my grave. I will not vote to in any way to harm the men and women in the U.S. military, nor will I cut off the support to their families. And if you want to picket, you want to protest, you want to disrupt my life - better my life is disrupted than the lives of these men and women in uniform. I'm going to support this Reid resolution because I think it helps bring the war to an honorable end. But, at the same time, we are going to support our troops. It is time to stop the finger-pointing and it's time to pinpoint a new way forward."

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