Stark issues apology for remarks on war

October 24, 2007|By Johanna Neuman | Johanna Neuman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Pete Stark apologized yesterday for saying last week that the White House was sending young Americans to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."

Stark's apology, on the House floor, came after Republicans failed to win a vote censuring the California Democrat for "despicable conduct." The vote was 196 to 173 to kill the measure, with 168 Republicans and five Democrats supporting censure.

"I hope that with this apology I will become as insignificant as I should be," Stark said.

He directed his apology to his colleagues, "the president and his family" and U.S. troops.

Stark, a 17-term congressman who represents part of the San Francisco Bay area, made his comments during a debate Thursday over President Bush's veto of a $35 billion increase in a program to provide health insurance to children.

"You don't have money to fund the war or children," Stark said. "But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, a California Democrat who was presiding over the House floor at the time, cautioned Stark to refrain. But she denied a GOP motion barring him from the floor for the rest of the day's debate.

Republicans condemned the remarks. A clip of the comments posted on YouTube was viewed 300,000 times. Initially, Stark refused to apologize. He issued a statement the same day, calling opponents of children's health insurance cowards. "I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best," Stark said in the statement. "But I respect neither the commander in chief who keeps them in harm's way nor the chickenhawks in Congress who vote to deny children health care."

As public pressure built, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that although the debate on children's health care was "heated on both sides," what Stark said was "inappropriate and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand - providing health care for America's children."

The move to censure Stark marked the second time Republicans have taken to the House floor to call attention to words the GOP deemed offensive to the U.S. military. The first was over a MoveOn.org ad portraying Gen. David H. Petraeus as "General Betray Us." On that 341 to 79 vote, most Democrats joined in the condemnation.

Johanna Neuman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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