Oregon Senator Ron Wyden likes tout his habit of holding town hall meetings in every county of Oregon at least once a year. Tuesday the Democratic Senator held his first town hall focused exclusively on the war in Iraq.
In September, Congress is scheduled to hear from the Pentagon's top commander in Iraq, General David Patreaus, on the future of America's involvement there. As Colin Fogarty reports, Wyden heard from an unruly crowd calling for immediate withdrawal.
Wyden might have expected a friendly audience among the crowd that gathered at Portland State University.
This was a largely anti-war crowd.
Wyden has been a consistent and vocal critic of the war in Iraq. He was one of only 23 Senators to voted against the invasion in 2002. He also voted to cut off funding for the war this June. And he voted against a recent domestic spying law backed by the Bush administration.
But at this town hall meeting at PSU, Wyden heard angry testimony that he and Congress aren't doing enough.
Lew Frederick expressed some of the frustration about the war.
Lew Frederick: “This is the most stupid, criminal, immoral, illegal action I have ever seen.”
Wyden heard from veterans, parents of soldiers and one current soldier in the Army Reserve.
27-year-old Jessica Acosta served in Iraq and has a boyfriend who is still there.
Jessica Acosta: “I just want to encourage you in the fact that you're not doing anything that is discouraging the troops in the matter of fighting for them to get them out of harm's way so that they can come home with legs, limb, and life. Thank you.”
Though there were many such compliments, others shouted angrily that Wyden should support the impeachment of President Bush. But Wyden told the crowd that having gone through the impeachment of President Clinton another such trial would sweep every other issue off the political agenda.
Ron Wyden: “I want people to understand, that this is really the issue, that that's what Congress will spend its time on. I believe that that time will be time when you ought to be, based on what I hear from certainly thousands and thousands of Oregonians should be time getting us out of Iraq, fixing energy policy, fixing the health care system and correcting schools. That my judgment.”
Wyden was later asked whether this was any more unruly than other town hall meetings.
Ron Wyden: “No, this is Oregon feeling strongly.”
Wyden said he's hoping that other members of Congress hear opposition to the war from constituents during the summer recess. He said he's hoping that will build enough votes to as he put it “change course in Iraq”.
He's backing a plan to begin pulling out American soldiers within 120 days. At the same time, Wyden does not support immediate withdrawal, saying that could put American soldiers at risk.