Democrats claimed Republicans were changing the meaning of Murtha’s withdrawal proposal. He has said a smooth withdrawal would take six months.

At one point in the emotional debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.

“He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do,” Schmidt said. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran.

Democrats booed and shouted her down — causing the House to come to a standstill.

Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tennessee, charged across the chamber’s center aisle screaming that Republicans were making uncalled-for personal attacks.

With a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Murtha retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 after 37 years as a Marine, only a few years longer than he’s been in Congress. Murtha, elected in 1974, has become known as an authority on national security whose advice was sought out by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. ~CNN

The debate was loud and disruptive. At one point, Democrats surged toward the Republican side of the chamber, shouting for an Ohio congresswoman to take her words back.

The incident began as Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), who took her seat in September after a special election, was recounting a conversation with a Marine colonel.

“He asked me to send Congress a message–stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message–that cowards cut and run, Marines never do,” Schmidt said.

Murtha is a former Marine who retired from a 37-year career in the corps with the rank of colonel, and Democrats considered her comment an insult.

It was also a violation of House rules, which do not permit members to address each other, only the chair.

“Take her words down, take them down,” Democrats shouted, bringing the proceedings to a halt. After several minutes of frantic negotiation, Schmidt stood up, said she retracted her comment and apologized. ~The Chicago Tribune

Rep. Ford does not strike me as the “screaming” type, but it is little wonder that someone normally as composed as he seems to be would take umbrage at the truly shabby, low-class, so very Clintonian sort of attack on Rep. Murtha’s reputation that Rep. Schmidt made (undoubtedly with the blessings of Hastert). While there seems to be good reason to doubt some of John Kerry’s exploits in Vietnam, there has never been any question or ambiguity about Rep. Murtha. Marines in Vietnam did not receive Bronze Stars with the combat “V” for anything less than genuine heroism in combat.

That some time-serving woman politician (who very nearly lost her special election to an Iraq war veteran who now opposes the war) had the gall to pretend to represent the ideals of the U.S. Marine Corps and use them to club a man who seems to be nothing other than an honourable veteran is reprehensible. What is worse, as the Tribune article makes clear, she did not even have the guts to stand by her accusation. Rep. Murtha’s courage was never really in question (one wonders whether there was ever a real conversation with a Marine colonel). It was just a useful ploy to try to tarnish his reputation with the sort of trashy rhetoric we have come to expect from the neocons and their hangers-on, for whom courage and honour are usually words to conjure with and are otherwise meaningless to those who breezily invoke them.