Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Classifieds
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
 Personals
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Comment
   Looking Up
   Reckonings
   Opinion
   Myth America
   Letters
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   Newsfront
   Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
 Lifestyle
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Leftovers
   Scenery
   Tech Life
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
 Music
   Listen Here
   Live
   Recordings
   Noteworthy
 Arts
   Theater
   Dance
   Art
   Classical
   Books
   Art Murmur
 Calendar
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 AccuWeather
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Take Charge

The Democrats are in control, President George W. Bush is a lame duck and Congressman Michael McNulty canít wait to start righting wrongs

Interview by David King

Photos by Chris Shields

 

On Feb. 16, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted to admonish the administration of George W. Bush for its plan for a troop surge in Iraq. U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, who has represented New Yorkís 21st District for 18 years, was one of the 229 Democrats and 17 Republicans who voted for the symbolic measure. In a sit-down interview with Metroland a week before the vote took place, the congressman, who was once considered moderate and who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, spoke about how he came to stand against the war, and how he wants to use the Democratsí new majority to go beyond the symbolic vote to take action to ensure that American troops are returned from combat in Iraq. In the interview, McNulty also talked about his hopes for bipartisanship that will address domestic concerns that he feels were neglected by the former Republican majority.

 

You voted for the war in Iraq. You have since said that you regret that vote. How did you come to that decision and how did you begin your dialogue with the local peace movement?

Iíve always had an open-door policy. I will meet with any group who wants to meet with me. So I had been meeting with these folks for years. . . . One of our initial meetings was back just prior to the vote in 2003. We had met before then, but this was on the eve of the vote so it was a critical meeting. I think there were 20 or 22 people, and I said, ĎEverybody is going to speak at this meeting. Everybody.í We were going around the table. Everybody had their say. I explained my position and what my major concern was at the time. I said, ĎI donít buy the connection between Saddam and 9/11. I am concerned about the administration saying that we have evidence of the build-up of weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, because of the fact Saddam Hussein, no question, had them before and used them and killed at least tens of thousands of people.í I told them the thing that was really determinative to me was when they told usóand Iím not repeating anything that was confidential, because the president ended up making this case to the countryóthat Iraq was within 12 months of nuclear capabilities. Now, you talk about nuclear capability and Saddam Hussein, my view is, this canít happen, because here is someone who developed weapons of mass destruction before and used them.

What happened in between that and where I am now is basically looking at the facts, and particularly the report of the 9/11 Commission. That 9/11 Commission was a pretty impressive group on both sides. They didnít have split votes. They were all unanimous. Obviously, the thing we knew in the beginning was there was no connection between Saddam and 9/11. No weapons of mass destruction, not even evidence of a nascent nuclear capability. Nothing. I donít see how anybody who voted the way I did doesnít look at that evidence and say that vote was wrong. After I came to that conclusion, the question is, ĎWhat do you do now?í Some people suggest that, regardless of the fact that the information was not accurate, we did invade the country so do we not owe it to the Iraqi people to give them the chance for this new government and this new way of life? My response to that is twofold. No. 1: Yes, we do. And No. 2: We have fulfilled that responsibility. We have seen them through not one, not two, but three elections. There is a government in place, and the plan has always been, on both sides, that we would train Iraqi police forces and national security forces and they would, over time, supplant our troops and allow us to reduce the number of troops and then eventually withdraw, and that never happened.

The president, from time to time, dipped before the cameras and said we have to ratchet up the training process. Nothing is wrong with the training process. We train top-notch police and security forces in this country in six months. Weíve been there four years. The problem is not the training process. The problem is the Iraqis are not coming forward to volunteer for service. And my question is, why should they? As long as we make the open-ended commitment that we are going to stay there and take all the enemy fire, what is the incentive to step forward and do that?

I hear people say Democrats donít have another plan. Donít say that to me! Iíve been saying over and over again, you set a timetable for withdrawal, a target date for getting all the troops out of the country and you start it now. Next month x number of troops are coming home. The following month, so on and so forth. And then one of two things is going to happen: Either the Iraqi people are going to step forward and defend this new government or they are not. If they do, thatís fine; then the mission has brought some positive result.

 

Is there a consensus among your fellow Democratic representatives about how to withdraw from Iraq?

I think some of them are coming to the conclusion that we need to set some sort of timetable. You know there are a couple dozen bills on Iraq for sure, and most of them have some kind of a timetable and some kind of a staged withdrawal. They have different end dates, but they are basically the same concept. Now some people want to go a step further, and Iím one of them. . . . Next week [this interview took place on Feb. 9] we are going to do a resolution that is going to say that we are in disagreement on the presidentís surge policy. This is so ridiculous! I mean, I thought Ted Kennedy had the best line on the thing: ĎWhy do you think the surge policy will work if it didnít work the first four times?í Weíve done it four times before!

 

Military experts have been saying that this will be different, in that originally their approach was to not clean out the insurgency, and now they are going to take the time to do that.

What does that mean? Go in neighborhoods, try to do this, and then you are going to stay there? I mean, thatís like putting a big target on the forehead of our troops over there. I donít see how that works at all. The point Iím trying to make is all of the Democrats and a good number of Republicans are going to vote against the surge policy, I think. We had a caucus, and it was determined that the resolution was going to be pretty simpleóthat we support our troops, respect what they are doing under the order of their
commander-in-chief, but we do not agree with this policy, and specifically do not agree with a surge policy
. That will get an overwhelming vote in my opinion, a somewhat bipartisan vote. But it doesnít have any affect on the policy itself. I think the only way we can affect the policy is to cut off this unlimited stream of funding. There will be a supplemental budget request by the president for almost $100 billion specifically for this purpose. Thatís going to change from what the president submitted, because the Democrats are in control in Congress and they are going to amend that bill. And I know that some of themóI donít know if it will be successfulówill try to get included in that bill an exit strategy, an exit plan. . . .

But I also do not believe, despite all the rhetoric that comes out of the administration, that this commander-in-chief would leave troops in the field in an indefensible position. I donít believe that about George Bush. If we take away funding heís going to have to withdraw those troops. I think thatís what we ought to do if we canít get him to agree to a rational exit strategy.

 

How did you see things changing leading up to election night 2006, with the way the political atmosphere was changing?

I think people around the country finally started taking a look at the record of the Bush administration, and I think they didnít like what they saw regarding foreign or domestic policy. It was over five years since the attack on our country on Sept. 11, 2001. We have approaching 30,000 young Americans dead or seriously wounded in Iraq, in an effort to go after the guy who did not attack us, while the person who did attack us, Osama Bin Laden, is still alive, free, planning another attack on our country. People finally saw the separation between Iraq and the war on terror. The president always tries to make them one and the same and obviously they are not. There was a tremendous backlash against the Bush administration for its policy in Iraq. . . . Then if you looked at domestic policy and you saw the tremendous need . . . 47 million people without health-care coverage. When the administration took office in 2001, there were 39 million. The number is going up. It is going in the wrong directionó39 to 47 millionóand itís still going up. And what is his response to that? Have a comprehensive health-care policy? No, letís have multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts, most of which go to people who donít need them and frankly, for the most part, didnít ask for them.

Giving these tax cuts is contributing to these large deficits that Republicans always said they are against. Nine trillion dollars. In the early days when I got elected and talked about it, I was criticized by my own party because, you know, that was not at the top of our Democratic agenda when I first went to Congress. I was different from some of the Democrats, but Iíve remained consistent about it through the years. I have four daughters, five grandchildren, and I donít like what our generation is giving to the future generations as far as the fiscal health of the country is concerned. I see the president now adopting what used to be the mantra of my party years ago, which is, ĎDonít worry about deficit, donít worry about the debt, donít worry, be happy.í I said the Democrats were wrong in the late í80s, early í90s when they said that, and I think the president is wrong today.

 

Talk a little bit about how ideas for the first 100 hours came about, how you felt they were executed and what you think was achieved, and maybe what wasnít.

We wanted it to be a limited agenda, and we got it down to be about half a dozen issues. They were pretty basic things. Raise the minimum wage; it hadnít been raised in a decade. A decade! The other thing we did was the ethics package, because we had lost as an institution, I believe, the trust of a lot of people in this country and that had to be taken care of. So that was the first order of business. And then we wanted to do something on a new minimum wage. We heard a lot from people about the cost of college education, paying those bills. So we cut the interest rate on student loans. We always hear a lot from everybody, particularly on the other side of the aisle, about national security, protecting our country. But they left a whole range of recommendations of the 9/11 Commission unfulfilled. So we wanted to do that. Stem-cell researchóso many people in this country suffering from Parkinsonís and Alzheimerís and other diseases donít have cures right now, and the scientific community seems to have some hope and promise. If we expand the stem-cell research we could do something about these things. I think that we are generally in sync in our views with a broad spectrum of the American people, and I think that was shown when we had the votes on these bills. We had 62 and 63 Republicans on average supporting these bills. They were passed in bipartisan fashion. . . .

Now we are hoping that we can move through the Byzantine rules of the Senate to get some action on those bills there. Just because one house passes the bill, thatís not the end of it. You want to make it law, so we have to go through the Senate process as well. Unfortunately, they have a rule whereby the majority doesnít rule. Itís got to be like 60 votes. We are working on that.

 

The face of the New York delegation has changed. How do you hope to work with the new congresspeople from New York?

The big thing is that we regained control of Congress, and I am in the majority. So thatís something I am very happy about, and my colleagues are very happy about. Iíve been around in Congress for 18 years now. My first six were in the majority. I was just getting used to it, and then I was in the minority for 12 years. To be in the majority and be able to set an agenda, to drive an agenda is really invigorating, and Iím just so happy about the possibilities that lie ahead.

Do you expect to have more bipartisanship during the next two years?

The 100-hours agenda was palliative in that regard. We took issues that, obviously, they didnít act on before but where we knew a certain number of their members had to come to the conclusion that this was a good thing to do (and the Republican leadership knew this before; thatís why they didnít bring them up), and we put those items on the agenda. We got these things to the floor. We put them on the floor, and you got an average of 60-odd Republicans voting for your bill. You know that itís not all partisan. This is something that should have been done a long time ago. I think the fact that we had such bipartisan support on those items means that we should have as our objective picking common-sense items in the future, where we can forge some agreement and pass those things and put pressure on the White House in the end to sign some of these bills. Now, Iím under no illusion that he is going to sign them all. Heís going to veto some things. But that should not stop us from trying, because I also believe, on the flip side of that, that he may very well sign some of them. Iíll give you an example: that minimum-wage bill comes to his desk, I donít think heís going to veto it.

 

It has been said that the president didnít react quickly enough during the election. Now that the election has passed, there seems to be a sense of confusion or disappointment among the public that the president has not gotten the message of the overwhelming vote. Do you think we will see a change,
an actual change in the presidentís policies?

It wasnít their PR. It was their policies. And people finally put all that together. I donít think there is anything they could have said or done politically in the last election that would have prevented the outcome. I do think if you see the shift with the number of Republican representatives and senators who will vote for some of these measures, and I think when the measures get to the presidentís desk if he sees 60, 80, 90 Republicans voting for the bills, heís going to think twice about vetoing those bills.

 

dking@metroland.net


Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
   

 

 
 
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.