Lone opponent of military force `agonized' before vote in House

Calif. Democrat says U.S. has alternatives for preventing terrorism

Terrorism Strikes America

September 16, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Barbara Lee did not come easily to the decision that made her the lone member of either the House or Senate to oppose President Bush's plan to use military force in retaliation for last week's terrorist attacks.

The California Democrat tearfully told her colleagues Friday night that she shared their anger at the calculated murder of thousands of innocent civilians. Like them, she said, she was filled with sorrow for the victims and their loved ones.

"Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world," Lee said during debate on the resolution endorsing sweeping powers for the president to strike back. "I have agonized over this vote."

And yet, Lee, now in her third term as one of the most liberal members of Congress, found that in the end she had to "rely on my moral compass, my conscience and my God for direction."

"Our deepest fears now haunt us," she said. "Yet, I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States."

Lee suggested that the president could more effectively combat terrorism by improving U.S. intelligence sources, tightening domestic security and prosecuting those behind the attacks.

Lee, 55, who represents Oakland and Berkeley, has a history of reservations about military action and comes from a community where many share her views.

She studied at the University of California at Berkeley while it was a hotbed of sentiment against the Vietnam War. She got a master's degree in social work and then took a job with Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, her predecessor in her district and one of Congress' leading doves until he retired in 1998.

Lee carries on much of his work. She favors cutting defense spending and converting military bases to civilian use. She criticized President Bill Clinton's bombing of Iraq in 1998 and was the only House member in 1999 to oppose Clinton's use of troops in Kosovo.

She has twice been re-elected with more than 80 percent of the vote, and her political strength isn't expected to weaken as a result of redistricting battles.

Even so, it wasn't easy to stand alone against a president and Congress united in a bipartisan fashion not witnessed in Washington perhaps since Pearl Harbor.

"She showed a lot of courage and integrity," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat with whom Lee talked before her vote. "I don't happen to agree with her decision, but I know it was very, very tough for her. She was choked up when she made her statement."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, said that while other members expressed uneasiness about aspects of the use-of-force authorization, he knew of no one other than Lee who questioned taking a military response.

"I think the overwhelming majority of Congress represents the sentiment in the country as a whole, which believes the only way to discourage such attacks is with a forceful and effective response," he said. "Barbara represents the one-third of 1 percent who disagree."

Lee told the House, "Some of us must say, `Let us step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.'"

She said she made her decision during the "very painful yet very beautiful memorial service" for the terrorists' victims Friday at the National Cathedral. "As a member of the clergy so eloquently said: `As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.'"

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