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Why A Non-Binding Resolution Gets A Lot Of Attention

(CBS)
The House of Representatives' debate on a non-binding resolution about the war in Iraq got plenty of play on the evening newscasts last night, as well as in newspapers and on news Web sites this morning. The Republican-drafted resolution declares "that the United States must complete 'the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq' without setting 'an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment' of U.S. troops," as The Washington Post reports today. Further down in the story, we learn that "the votes will not bind the administration …" to action.

CBSNews.com's story on the resolution indicates as much in the headline: "House Passes Symbolic Iraq Resolution." Last night on the "Evening News," Congressional correspondent Sharyl Attkisson

: "Think of it not so much as a real debate with a real chance of changing anything in the war on Iraq. It's more of a political dare -- a nonbinding resolution that Republicans are putting to a vote, calling for the U.S. to stand firm in Iraq and the war on terror, and who in their right mind would vote against that?"

So if it's likely not going to change anything, why is it getting so much attention? The reasons are mostly related to the story's political relevance, according to Attkisson. She wrote in an e-mail:

"It's getting attention because the war in Iraq and the war on terror are foremost on the minds of so many Americans. That's why Congress wants to debate it: to let constituents back home in this election year see that they are talking about the big issues and controversies.

The resolution that was proposed isn't the one Democrats would have chosen to debate; it's the Republicans' choice. Many Democrats would rather be voting on a timeline for troop withdrawal. Many Republicans, on the other hand, felt it was important to send a symbolic message of support for the war in Iraq and the war on terror."

The Post story also noted as much: "The votes will not bind the administration, but the debates had the effect of putting scores of elected officials on the record concerning the nation's most pressing issue at a moment when the approaching midterm elections are putting control of both the House and the Senate in play."

That the debates were so emotionally charged likely also played a role in how much coverage the story got. "The House and the Senate engaged in angry, intensely partisan debate on Thursday over the war in Iraq…" reads The New York Times' lead paragraph on the story today. Further down, the Times writes, "it was one of the sharpest legislative clashes yet over the three-year-old conflict." CNN.com's story offers a link to footage of the "agonizing, acrid debate."

And all the evening newscasts featured several clips of various floor members' statements. "There is no issue that divides the House of Representatives more deeply than the war in Iraq. As we have seen today, emotions are raw," said NBC's Chip Reid, as he began his segment. On ABC's "World News Tonight," anchor Charles Gibson introduced a series of clips from the floor debate and voiced over some brief narration.

"As for the idea that nothing will really come of this resolution, that's true," Attkisson wrote to me. "But as a journalist, I think it would be kind of silly for us to 'censor' what Congress is doing simply because it may not result in a firm law. Policy, social and political discussions are of themselves noteworthy and often newsworthy ... as these people are elected representatives of us all."