Wal­ter B. Jones Jr.

The GOP law­maker, first a backer and then a critic of the Iraq War, was 76.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY FELI­CIA SON­MEZ

Wal­ter B. Jones Jr., a North Carolina con­gress­man who so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq that he ar­gued for the french fries and French toast served in House cafe­te­rias to be called “free­dom fries” and “free­dom toast” — a jab at France for its op­po­si­tion to the war — but who later un­der­went a dra­matic change of heart and emerged as a prom­i­nent Repub­li­can critic of the war, died Feb. 10, on his 76th birth­day.

His of­fice con­firmed the death in a state­ment. It had an­nounced Jan. 26 that the 13-term law­maker had en­tered hos­pice care, his health hav­ing de­clined af­ter a fall in which he broke his hip. Rep. Jones had been granted a leave of ab­sence in late 2018 for an un­spec­i­fied ill­ness.

Rep. Jones first ran for Congress in 1992, cam­paign­ing un­suc­cess­fully as a con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat for the north­east­ern North Carolina district that his fa­ther had rep­re­sented for 26 years. A South­ern Bap­tist from child­hood, Rep. Jones had con­verted to Catholi­cism in his early 30s and cited his op­po­si­tion to abor­tion among the fac­tors that led to his dis­en­chant­ment with his fam­ily’s long­time po­lit­i­cal party.

Two years later, amid the “Repub­li­can rev­o­lu­tion” that swept the House, he joined the GOP and won a seat in a neigh­bor­ing district that now in­cludes the Marine Corps’ Camp Le­je­une and Cherry Point air sta­tion.

Dur­ing his early ten­ure on Capi­tol Hill, he was a re­li­able Repub­li­can vote and, in 2002, joined most Repub­li­cans and many Democrats in vot­ing for a res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush to use mil­i­tary force in Iraq af­ter Bush ac­cused Iraqi leader Sad­dam Hus­sein of hid­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

Rus­sia and France threat­ened to veto a U. N. res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing the war, but the French were the most vo­cal in their op­po­si­tion. In re­sponse, Rep. Jones and Rep. Robert W. Ney ( R- Ohio) led a suc­cess­ful cam­paign to oust the word “French” from House cafe­te­ria items.

They were act­ing in an Amer­i­can tra­di­tion that dated at least to World War I, when sauer­kraut was re- chris­tened “lib­erty cab­bage.” Rep. Jones called his ef­fort a re­sponse to France’s “self- serv­ing pol­i­tics of pas­sive ag­gres­sion,” while lib­er­als lam­pooned it as knee- jerk jin­go­ism.

The U.S.-led in­va­sion be­gan in March 2003 and has re­sulted in more than 4,000 U.S. deaths and more than 100,000 Iraqi ca­su­al­ties. No weapons of mass de­struc­tion were found, and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the in­va­sion was soon re­vealed to have been based on faulty in­for­ma­tion. (“The peo­ple around Bush ma­nip­u­lated the in­tel­li­gence,” Rep. Jones later said.)

Rep. Jones, who came to deeply re­gret his cham­pi­oning of the war, traced his trans­for­ma­tion to a fu­neral held at Camp Le­je­une for a 31-year-old Marine sergeant and am­phibi­ous as­sault ve­hi­cle driver who had been killed in March 2003 while help­ing evac­u­ate wounded com­rades. In the pres­ence of their three young chil­dren, in­clud­ing new­born twins, his widow read from the man’s fi­nal let­ter home.

“I had tears run­ning from my eyes,” the con­gress­man told Mother Jones magazine.

He watched as the older boy dropped a toy and a Marine picked it up and handed it back. “And the boy looked up at him,” the con­gress­man said, “and the Marine looked down, and then it hit me: This lit­tle boy would never know his daddy.”

“This was a spir­i­tual hap­pen­ing for me,” he told the magazine. “I think at that point I fully un­der­stood the loss that a fam­ily feels.” He added of his drive home: “The whole way, 72 miles, I was think­ing about what I just wit­nessed. I think God in­tended for me to be there.”

He be­gan writ­ing to rel­a­tives of every U. S. ser­vice mem­ber killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, one wrench­ing let­ter at a time.

“I have signed over 12,000 let­ters to fam­i­lies and ex­tended fam­i­lies who’ve lost loved ones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and that was for me ask­ing God to for­give me for my mis­take,” Rep. Jones told NPR in 2017. He also hung posters dis­play­ing the faces of the war dead along the hall­way lead­ing to his of­fice on Capi­tol Hill.

In 2005, Rep. Jones pub­licly re­nounced his vote and called on Bush to set a time­line for with­drawal from Iraq.

He be­came a scathing critic of U. S. mil­i­tary ac­tion un­der Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­dents. But he held Bush’s vice pres­i­dent, Richard B. Cheney, in par­tic­u­lar con­tempt for his role ad­vo­cat­ing for the Iraq in­va­sion.

“Lyn­don John­son’s prob­a­bly rot­ting in hell right now be­cause of the Viet­nam War, and he prob­a­bly needs to move over for Dick Cheney,” Rep. Jones said in 2013 dur­ing re­marks at a meet­ing of the lib­er­tar­ian group Young Amer­i­cans for Lib­erty in Raleigh, N.C.

While Rep. Jones held fast to core Repub­li­can tenets in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion to abor­tion rights, on other is­sues he found him­self a lonely voice within the GOP. He backed cam­paign fi­nance re­form and in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage. He twice op­posed his party’s leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, for House speaker. And he voted against Pres­i­dent Trump’s sig­na­ture tax bill in 2017 in part be­cause it in­creased the deficit.

In 2012, re­spond­ing to his re­bel­lious streak, GOP lead­ers moved to strip him of his po­si­tion on the Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. But while some con­sid­ered him a gad­fly, oth­ers viewed him as a prin­ci­pled leg­is­la­tor — in­clud­ing many of his con­stituents, who con­tin­u­ally re­turned him to of­fice.

“What Jones showed is that you can be a very con­ser­va­tive guy, you can be a lib­er­tar­ian, but you can find all kinds of ways to work with mem­bers from across the aisle,” said Nor­man J. Orn­stein, an Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute con­gres­sional scholar. “Be­ing con­ser­va­tive doesn’t mean you need to march in lock-step.”

“Maybe you’re shut out of power be­cause you don’t con­form, but you get rec­og­nized the right way,” Orn­stein added.

Wal­ter Bea­man Jones Jr. was born in Far­mville, N.C., on Feb. 10, 1943. He grad­u­ated in 1961 from Har­grave Mil­i­tary Acad­emy in Chatham, Va., where he was a star basketball player, and in 1966 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in his­tory from At­lantic Chris­tian Col­lege (now Bar­ton Col­lege) in Wilson, N.C.

Af­ter ser­vice in the North Carolina Na­tional Guard, he worked as a wine bro­ker with a ter­ri­tory that in­cluded North Carolina and Vir­ginia. Be­cause of his po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions, he was ap­proached in 1982 by a lo­cal Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cial to com­plete the term of a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive who had died in of­fice. He re­mained in the state House un­til 1992.

In 1966, he mar­ried Joe Anne White­hurst. In ad­di­tion to his wife, sur­vivors in­clude a daugh­ter, Ash­ley.

In ex­plain­ing one of his votes against his party — his op­po­si­tion to the sweep­ing GOP tax over­haul in 2017 — Rep. Jones told The Wash­ing­ton Post that he be­lieved the mea­sure would not help the mid­dle class, de­scrib­ing his de­ci­sion as a mat­ter of con­science.

“You al­ways run con­cerned . . . and I don’t take [the seat] for granted,” Rep. Jones said. “But I don’t think any­one can ques­tion my in­tegrity.”

LISA NIPP/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS AN­DREW HARNIK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Wal­ter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) led the ef­fort to re­name french fries and French toast to free­dom fries and free­dom toast in House cafe­te­rias, a dig at France for its op­po­si­tion to the Iraq War. He came to re­gret his sup­port of the war, writ­ing apol­ogy let­ters to fam­i­lies of ser­vice mem­bers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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