Published on Thursday, June 4, 2009 by The Baltimore Sun
's Donna Edwards: Emerging Leader, Liberal Maverick Maryland
State's first black congresswoman opposes Obama war-funding plan
WASHINGTON - When Congress gives President Barack Obama more funds later this month for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, only one Maryland lawmaker is expected to dissent: Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards.
Donna Edwards at the Take Back
Edwards believes the president is taking the
Congress "failed" its responsibility to challenge President George W. Bush's policies in
After less than a year in the job, the first black woman elected to Congress from
"We see her as an emerging leader, and I think she will really be a dynamic force in the Congress," said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, which gave her a prominent place on the agenda at the liberal group's conference in Washington this week.
It's a heady ascent for the 50-year-old lawyer from
Edwards got her start in politics as a local activist, fighting plans for the $2 billion
The single mother of a college-age son then took on Rep. Al Wynn, her one-time boss as a
Like others on the left, Edwards is unhappy with some of Obama's early pragmatic decisions, such as withholding photos of Abu Ghraib detainee abuses (releasing them would be "part of how we reach the rest of the world," she contends) or taking a single-payer health care option off the table before congressional negotiations even started ("not helpful").
"I think at his core the president is one of us," Edwards told activists during a panel discussion at the conference. By bringing pressure from the left, liberals can "open up the political space for this president to do what his gut wants him to do anyway."
Three weeks ago, Edwards took the House floor in opposition to Obama's
The president, she said, would "commit our servicemen and women to a war without end."
She was the only Marylander to vote against Obama's $96.7 million war funding request, which gained initial House approval on a bipartisan vote of 368-60, with 51 Democratic liberals opposed. A final vote is expected Friday.
Her "no" vote put her at odds with some on the left whose enthusiasm for Obama outweighs their doubts about his war plan. Moveon.org, which gained power as an antiwar group and was an influential part of an online coalition that backed Edwards, did nothing on the war funding vote, for example.
They "may have called me naive for that" vote, she told the liberal activists. "But if we don't ask the questions now, we'll be asking ourselves these questions ten years from now, I guarantee that."
Another foreign-policy move that generated criticism was her refusal to support a measure that recognized
It was "the wrong resolution at the wrong time," and not in the best interest of resolving the crisis, she explained after the vote. But Politico reported this week that Edwards had alienated some in the Jewish community in the
"Look, I voted 'present' on a resolution that was apparently very important to the Jewish lobby. And so, obviously, that's going to result in an expression of, whatever, concern and questions," Edwards said during the interview in her House office.
Edwards recently came back from a six-day trip to
In another foray into foreign policy politics, she was one of five members of Congress arrested and taken into custody in late April outside the Sudanese Embassy in
Her involvement raised questions about what kind of representative Edwards intended to be: a gadfly or a workhorse, a bomb-thrower or a serious inside player?
"I want to do what's right by people in my congressional district and in the country," she said. "I think people, at this early stage ... would describe me as somebody who's really thoughtful and careful and who does her homework."
At this early stage, some Democratic activists also describe the ambitious newcomer as a future statewide candidate, one with significant potential in party politics.
"She's a true believer," which would be an advantage in a Democratic primary contest, said Eddie Eitches, president of an American Federation of Government Employees local.
Edwards admits that she doesn't see "congresswoman" as the last job title on her professional resume. But she laughs off speculation about a run some day for the Senate.
"Oh, gosh," she responded and, referring to herself in the third person, added that "she's going to do her job in the
That, and move soon into a new home - a luxury
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs