Andrews pushes back against Lautenberg’s Iraq accusations

Facing a steady stream of attacks for his original stance on the Iraq war, Rep. Rob Andrews sought to get out in front of the issue today, challenging incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg to stop dwelling on past positions and lay his own ideas out for the future of American involvement in Iraq.

The press conference, held on the steps to the War Memorial in Trenton, comes just after Lautenberg put out a commercial that hits Andrews on his early support for the war, noting that he was enlisted by Bush to co-author the war resolution and to lobby Democrats to pass it.

“The U.S. Senate campaign should be a test of ideas about what to do next,” said Andrews. “And it’s a choice between the tired, stale, old status quo politics that just complains, just hurls attacks, and a choice as to what to do next.”

Andrews stood in front of eight Vietnam veterans and was introduced by Mike Leonette, whose son, John Bowman, was severely wounded in Iraq two years ago.

“I need to know, especially from Senator Lautenberg, what is his intent to bring people home so that no other parent has to go through this,” said Leonetti.

Andrews, who was a vocal supporter of the war in its early stages and defended it well into 2005, said that he’s been working to come up with a withdrawal plan since November, 2006 – long before he had a primary challenge to Sen. Lautenberg in mind. It’s also a plan that Lautenberg’s campaign has because Andrews never introduced it as legislation.

“There are differences between myself and my opponent on this issue. I laid out a plan to get us out of Iraq 18 months ago,” Andrews said. “He never has, and he has a responsibility to do so for the people in this state.”

The plan, which he presented in a 2006 speech to the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, goes into some detail about how the United States could create stability in Iraq while withdrawing, including putting replacing 75,000 American troops with Iraqis and, if that doesn’t work, encouraging the United Nations and Arab League to take a larger role in stabilizing the country. All in all, Andrews proposed withdrawing most American troops within 12 to 18 months.

“It was done in the spirit of problem solving, and we await the Senator’s plan,” said Andrews.

But Lautenberg’s campaign has criticized Andrews for never introducing the plan as legislation.

“The only Iraq plan Rob Andrews can take credit for is the one he co-authored with George Bush to get us into the war,” said Lautenberg spokewoman Julie Roginsky. “If Congressman Andrews claims he wants our troops to come home, he should explain his three votes to keep troops in Iraq.”

Lautenberg’s campaign also announced his endorsement from an anti-war, pro-disarmament group called Council for a Livable World, whose board of directors criticized Andrews’s prior Iraq stance.

Andrews said today that he talked about his withdrawal plans with House leadership, and actively worked to push the withdrawal plan that House Democrats did come up with and pass in March, 2007 – a plan that Lautenberg approved in the Senate as well, before it went on to be vetoed by President Bush.

As Lautenberg’s campaign continues to make Iraq an issue, Andrews continued to call out the 84-year-old Senator on his reluctance to commit to any debates, noting that he’s been invited to debates by 10 news organizations and has accepted them all, while Lautenberg has not committed to any.

“We should talk about this issue not by hiding behind staff, not by putting up 30 second television commercials, but by standing before the people of New Jersey and debating this and other issues.”

While Andrews said he wanted to focus on the future, he recounted several pro-war comments that Lautenberg made on the campaign trail in 2002 and during the early part of his term in the Senate in 2003 – saying that Lautenberg can’t claim that he changed his mind as soon as he saw the intelligence.

Andrews said that it was necessary to highlight those quotes to “correct the record,” and said that the description of him as a co-author of the original war resolution was an exaggeration.

Still, Andrews would not go as far as to call the invasion of Iraq a mistake.

“Removing Saddam Hussein from office was not a mistake,” he said. “What was a mistake was the mistake the Bush Administration made in lying about the intelligence that led up to it. It was a mistake when the Bush Administration had no conceivable plan to handle the post-Saddam era… And the biggest mistake is saying nothing to fix the problem, which is the mistake the Senator is making day in and day out.”

Andrews pushes back against Lautenberg’s Iraq accusations