Since she became Speaker of the House, San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's position on continued funding for the Iraq War has been explicit: she seeks the war's end, but says, "Democrats will never cut off funding for our troops when they are in harm's way." The San Francisco Democratic Party, however, recently took a different view, when its County Central Committee passed resolutions calling upon Pelosi, her fellow San Francisco Representative Tom Lantos, and California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein "to vote against any further funding for the deployment of United States Armed Forces in Iraq, with the exception of funds specifically earmarked to provide for their safe and orderly withdrawal" and further called for Congress to revoke "the authority it granted for commitment of our military forces in Iraq."
Given that it's now twenty-eight months since San Franciscans passed a ballot measure asking the Federal Government to "bring the troops safely home now;" the Committee's votes might seem routine. The fact is, though, that they came in the face of considerable opposition from the Speaker's office and the California Democratic Party.
The Central Committee had taken up resolutions urging the city's Congressional representatives to adopt a forthright antiwar position twice before, first calling on Pelosi and Lantos to cosponsor California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's 2005 immediate withdrawal resolution (and for the Senators to file similar legislation), and then advocating the same for Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern's 2006 bill limiting additional Iraq military funding to troop withdrawal. So by now, all of the players at the Central Committee meeting pretty much knew what the general routine would be.
On the prior occasions, Pelosi's office offered counter resolutions describing the Woolsey or McGovern measures as being among a number of valid approaches to ending the war, but urging no specific action. And each time, her office put out the word that they had the votes for their substitutes. Yet both times, her supporters ultimately declined to press the matter and the original resolutions passed on voice votes, intact, but for the substitution of the words "San Francisco's Democratic Representatives" for their proper names.
This time, though, both the approach and the resistance seemed a bit sharper, perhaps in keeping with Pelosi's increased national prominence and the ever growing local impatience with the fact that neither she nor Tom Lantos has ever voted to deny President Bush a cent of the money he has requested to pursue the war – and have no apparent intention of doing so. This despite the fact that sixty-three percent of San Francisco voted for immediate withdrawal in November, 2004, and with the subsequent decline in public support for the war, it seems fair to assume that the figure would be closer to eighty percent now.
So for the first time, a Pelosi-backed amendment – putting the Committee on record as supporting "all effective means to end the war in Iraq," including those contained in the original resolution, but again urging no action – actually went to a vote. It lost, by a 12-13-1 margin, at which point the fight was over. Even a Pelosi staffer who holds an elected seat then spoke out in favor of the original resolution which passed on a voice vote with only the representatives of Pelosi's office and the California Democratic Party, and a single elected member asking to be recorded in opposition. (A representative of Senator Feinstein, who has a vote by virtue of being a US Senator residing in the city, abstained; no Lantos
representative was present at the meeting.)
While these resolutions are unlikely to make Lantos or Pelosi switch their votes in the near future, they would be foolish to ignore the fact that even the core of their Democratic Party base has acknowledged the validity of the growing grassroots frustration with the timidity of the Democrats'
approach. Lantos has flouted the views of his district right along,
however, supporting the war from the start – and gotten away with it, as most incumbents do. Pelosi is a more complicated case. Along with the majority of House Democrats, she opposed the war at the start and has been critical throughout, all of which is to her credit. But there is the matter of just whom she currently sees herself as representing.
When Pelosi ruled out a House leadership effort to cut off war funding, she could plausibly argue that even if she wanted to, she'd probably have great difficulty getting a defunding resolution through the House Democratic Caucus. But part of the impetus behind the Central Committee resolutions was to remind the city's Representatives that when it comes time to cast their own votes, it is not the Democratic Caucus they represent, but their districts, and Pelosi's 8th Congressional District of California has probably indicated its antiwar views as forthrightly as any place in the country.
The tensions between party and district inherent in leadership are nothing new for Pelosi. In her first days as Speaker, she disappointed some environmentalists and pro-choice activists by not promoting her personal positions – against a Gulf Coast oil drilling bill and a measure mandating warnings of fetal pain to women seeking abortions – as party positions, presumably in deference to significant Democratic support for both bills. Yet when the roll call came, she still voted against the bills.
Clearly, the matter of the Iraq War merits no less careful attention to representing both her party in matters of leadership positions and her district on votes. To be sure, the news media would be all over Pelosi should she actually vote against the next appropriation.
And that is precisely what the situation calls for. In the words of one the resolutions the San Francisco Democrats approved, "the appropriate way to support American troops currently "in harm's way" in an unjust, illegal, and destabilizing war ... is to remove them from the hazards to which the Administration is currently subjecting them." And to accomplish this we need every antiwar voice we can get – and every vote in Congress.
Tom Gallagher (TGTGTGTGTG@aol.com) is president
of a local San Francisco Democratic club and was the sponsor of one of the resolutions.