McNerney returns from Iraq

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is talking with reporters this moment via conference call from Germany, where he recently arrived after a trip to Iraq.

McNerney led a six-member bipartisan freshmen delegation over the weekend to Iraq to visit with Iraqi leaders and American troops.

As soon as the call concludes, I’ll report on what McNerney found on the ground in Iraq both in this blog and on our on-line and print newspages.


Elected just nine months ago, McNerney remains committed to a timeline for U.S. withdrawal of its troops from Iraq but expressed a willingness to be more flexible after spending the weekend visiting American troops and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Ramadi.

“If anything, I’m more willing to work to find a way forward,” McNerney told reporters during a 45-minute teleconference from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “I think we can find a way forward that would be bipartisan.”

McNerney and his colleagues arrived in Baghdad Saturday night, where they stepped off a C-130 airplane into the stifling, 120-degree desert heat.

They had dinner Saturday with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, whose mission, McNerney said, was to persuade lawmakers to give him time to do his job in Iraq.

“I was impressed with Petraeus’ confidence,” McNerney said. “… But he’s aware of the pressure in Congress that we need to end this thing. He had a lot of data to show the progress. He’s concerned about being given enough time to finish the job but he’s aware that we need to come to a resolution.”

On Sunday, the legislators flew via Blackhawk helicopter to Ramadi, a town 70 miles outside of Baghdad where U.S. troops have successfully ousted terrorist forces. The flight was uneventful, except for a couple of flares that briefly gave McNerney the sensation of being under fire.

Once in Ramadi, McNerney and the others walked with military escorts in an open-air market.

The troops have “made quite a bit of progress here, (Ramadi) ” McNerney said. “Of course, I’m sure (the military) cherry-picked the best places for us to see.”

McNeney also had dinner with six soldiers from California and met with Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, an Iraqi Kurd.

The congressman described Salih as a “polished” politician who “said the right words. He knows we are are concerned about (the Iraqi leaders’) relationships with he different sects and the violence.” McNerney says he delivered a clear message to the Iraqi leaders: The U.S. cannot remain in Iraq forever and its leaders must step forward.

McNerney isn’t persuaded, however, that Iraq is ready to protect itself against a terrorist take-over in the absence of U.S. troops.

Iraqi leaders “sounded bravado and when you ask, they say ‘You can leave today, if you want to,’ ” McNerney said. “I didn’t get to talk to any Iraqi troops but I’m not as optimistic as I would like.”

He described the California soldiers as “being in good spirits … but they want the conflict over and they were ready to come home.” The soldiers used their time with the congressman to lobby for funding of better equipment such as light-weight body armor. One soldier from San Diego said he weighed 130 pounds without armor and 230 pounds with it.

The soldiers also talked with McNerney about California windmills; the congressman is a wind turbine expert who worked as a wind energy consultant prior to winning his seat in November. And he and a Sonoma soldier talked a little bit about wine.

The delegation flew late Sunday night to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where the delegation visited wounded troops including a man who suffered a bullet injury through his jaw and another who who faced reconstruction of his leg.

The other members of the bipartisan delegation included Democratic congress members Tim Mahoney of Florida and Keith Ellison of Minnesota; and Republicans Mary Fallin from Oklahoma, Dean Heller from Nevada and Peter Peter Roskam from Illinois.

McNerney plans to write a short essay about his Iraq trip, which he said he will post on his House web site. He recently wrote a similar paper on his trip to Greenland as part of the House Science Committee.


We all scream for… prison reform. (And ice cream.)

Local residents and members of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) will gather to publicly protest California’s prison-expansion plan from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday in the Mosswood Park Amphitheatre, at Broadway and MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. On tap: 53,000 paper dolls and a load of ice cream.

“I Scream (Ice Cream) Against Prison Expansion” will bring together local performers, youth, and other residents to continue work started in Los Angeles earlier this month to create 53,000 paper dolls to signify the 53,000 new prison and jail cells planned under a deal struck between lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two federal judges this week ordered the creation of a three-judge panel to consider placing a cap on the state’s prison population, basically rejecting the state’s claim that the prison-expansion deal will solve the state’s overcrowding problem.


Progress for Tauscher’s deployment bill

tauscher2.jpgThe House Armed Services Committee today voted 32-25, with two members voting “present,” to approve Rep. Ellen Tauscher‘s bill to set minimum recuperation periods between deployments for troops serving in Iraq, clearing the way for a House floor vote next week.

H.R. 3159, which Tauscher, D-Alamo, introduced just this week, is the House version of an amendment (S.2012) offered earlier this month by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., requiring that if a unit or member of a regular Armed Forces component deploys to Iraq, they will have the same time at home before they are redeployed. National Guard and Reserve troops couldn’t be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for at least three years after their previous deployment. Tauscher chairs the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

“The Bush administration’s current strategy of multiple back-to-back deployments has stretched our military and is breaking our all-volunteer force. If we fail to act we do so at the expense of our military readiness. We need a posture that allows units adequate dwell time to recover, train and equip before their next assignment. If we do not fix this problem immediately, we will suffer massive recruitment and retention problems in the near future,” Tauscher said in a news release.

Also marked up by the committee today was H.R. 3087, of which Tauscher is an original co-sponsor, requiring the President within 60 days to send Congress a comprehensive strategy for redeployment of troops out of Iraq. This bill notes Congress’ original authorization for the war no longer has any resemblance to the current military mission in Iraq. Apparently far less contentious, this bill was passed by the committee on a 55-2 vote.


Freitas still not ready to announce

Antioch Mayor Don Freitas promised to ponder his political future during his recent summer vacation and return refreshed with a decision as to whether he will seek re-election to his city seat, run for county supervisor or strike out for the Assembly.

A lot of people have an eyes on the mayor’s seat but they are waiting for Freitas to make his move.

And they are still waiting. Freitas says he will announce his decision September.


Do endorsements matter?

Nonpartisan political analyst Larry Rothenberg posted an interesting article based on his premise that endorsements almost never matter. Click here to read it.

Rothenberg is referring to endorsements for the presidential candidates, of which we have reported on several from prominent Californians in recent days. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, have both endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

“The reason that endorsements don’t matter much is that presidential contests are such high-profile, visible fights that voters can draw their own opinions of the candidates,” Rothenberg wrote. “You either like Clinton or you don’t. You can make your own mind up about it. You don’t need some celebrity or politician telling you what to do.”

Does Rothenberg’s premise apply to local races? Probably not to the same extent, chiefly because local candidates typically don’t attract the same level of attention.

But endorsements have another purpose, which could apply to local candidates: Big name endorsements create a sense of momentum, which in turn attracts contributors’ money and attention.

“The endorsements are intended, of course, to create an impression of support, either among key subgroups of the electorate — blacks, evangelicals, Hispanics, party insiders, home-schoolers, environmentalists, conservatives, labor unions, etc. — or in the electorate at large,” Rothenberg wrote. “It’s the classic effort to create a bandwagon, to establish the inevitability of your victory.”


Tauscher, McNerney named conferees

Reps. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, have been named to serve as conferees on the Water Resources Development Act. A conferee committee, comprised of members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, will hammer out the differences between the water bills passed in each branch earlier this year.

The legislation authorizes approximately $14 billion for water resources studies and construction projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including several in the Bay Area.

As soon as the conference report has been agreed to, the House and Senate will vote on the final version of the bill, and it will go to President Bush for his signature.