During the January debate on whether to wage war with Iraq, Democrats and Republicans said the vote was strictly a matter of conscience.
But now, Republicans - including some from Utah - appear ready to attack Democrats who did not support the president and make it a key campaign issue next year.A sure sign was all the bright yellow "I voted with the president" buttons that Republicans wore at President Bush's speech to Congress Wednesday celebrating the end of the war. Democrats merely wore yellow ribbons.
That could be a troublesome omen for Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, the only member of the delegation who did not support Bush in the original vote. And it is prompting a spirited debate among Utah's members of Congress about whether it is a fair campaign issue.
"I don't know how it could help but be a campaign issue," said Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, while proudly wearing his button on a lapel and sporting a small American flag on his pocket.
And he said that not only will the war vote be an issue, but so will members' "support of all the weapon systems they had. I'm very proud . . . that I stood up and fought for many of the weapon systems that ended this thing in a hurry."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also said, "I think that a lot of them (Democrats) feel like they are kind of on the wrong side looking in because of their earlier vote and refusing to support" the president.
He warns that if they refuse to again support the president in his new call for quick action on domestic legislation, "I think the American people have got to wake up and say, `Come on, we're tired of it."'
Owens himself said, "It was a vote of conscience and judgment, but conscience and judgment are examinable in elections. So I expect to hear about it."
He added, "I did exactly what I thought was right, and I defend it. I think it was a good, rational vote. We'll never know, had sanctions been tried, if we could have avoided killing 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqi soldiers and 100-plus Americans. But since the day of the vote - which we lost - I've supported wholeheartedly the war effort."
Owens also said, "I just hope in the new world order that we first try the political and economic means before we go to war. We didn't do that here," saying further sanctions may have eventually led to revolts to oust Saddam Hussein.
Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, who did support the president and even wore an "I voted with the president" button himself, said he is disgusted by new partisanship about the original vote.
"I am quite saddened, I have to tell you, by many of my Republican colleagues who are now making this some kind of partisan, political issue," he said.
"The first week I was here, I sat down with the president. I sat down with the leadership of the House. Every one of them told me this isn't a partisan question. This isn't a question between Democrat and Republican. This is an issue of conscience. That's how everyone voted."
Orton added, "I'm pretty sickened by seeing everyone now turn around and try to point the finger at those who didn't vote to support the president and that's some kind of partisan issue. It wasn't then, and it isn't now."