- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

President Bush yesterday reached agreement with three of the four top congressional leaders on language for a resolution against Iraq, warning "the use of force may become unavoidable."
In a significant victory for the administration, Mr. Bush won the support of all leaders except Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. The president celebrated by surrounding himself with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both houses of Congress in the Rose Garden of the White House.
"The issue is now before the United States Congress," he declared. "This debate will be closely watched by the American people, and this debate will be remembered in history."
He added: "As the vote nears, I urge all members of Congress to consider this resolution with the greatest of care. The choice before them could not be more consequential."
In a concession to Democrats, Mr. Bush agreed to assure Congress before launching an attack or within 48 hours afterward that diplomatic measures were insufficient to eradicate weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein's regime.
"In Baghdad, the regime will know that full compliance with all U.N. security demands is the only choice and the time remaining for that choice is limited," the president warned. "Saddam must disarm, period."
Unlike Mr. Daschle, who held out for further changes in the language of the resolution, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, joined Mr. Bush at yesterday's ceremony and was invited to the presidential podium.
"We disagree on many domestic issues, but this is the most important thing that we do," Mr. Gephardt said. "This should not be about politics. We have to do what is right for the security of our nation and the safety of all Americans."
Just last week, Mr. Gephardt joined Mr. Daschle in accusing the president of politicizing the debate over Iraq. But with Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, under fire for savaging Mr. Bush while in Baghdad last week, Mr. Gephardt scrambled to side with the president.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the president made an "eloquent, powerful and convincing statement" for action against Iraq during a White House breakfast yesterday with lawmakers, including Mr. Daschle.
Hours later, after skipping the South Lawn gathering, Mr. Daschle issued a statement saying he is "certain the Senate will adopt with broad bipartisan support a resolution that clearly provides the president the authority he needs to deal with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction."
The House International Relations Committee was working on the resolution last night, and Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, predicted the panel will approve it today by a 2-to-1 margin. He said the resolution differs from an alternative proposed by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, because the House measure does not bow to the United Nations.
"The resolution is protective of American sovereignty. It does not defer to the U.N.," Mr. Hyde said. "Senator Biden's resolution has excessive deference to the U.N. Our resolution does not."
He added: "Our resolution insists on the inherent sovereignty of the president, of our government, whereas the Biden resolution has a role for the U.N. that we feel is overstated."
Mr. Biden said his proposal, which would have made weapons inspections the only reason for a confrontation with Iraq, does not put the United States in a subservient role with the United Nations. He insisted he is trying to strengthen the president's position.
"When you go ahead and pass something as broad as Mr. Gephardt has signed onto with the president, it really undercuts the negotiations going on at the United Nations," Mr. Biden said. "The biggest hurdle [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell has to overcome is that we're serious, that we really want to engage the United Nations."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert downplayed White House concessions to Democrats, who did not want the language of the resolution to give Mr. Bush a blank check for military action anywhere in the Middle East.
"The resolution does not tie the president's hands," the Illinois Republican said. "It gives him the flexibility he needs to get the job done."
He added: "If the president determines that he has to act unilaterally to protect American people, he can and he has the ability to do that."
But Mr. Gephardt used his forum in the Rose Garden to say he had "negotiated with the administration to secure a number of important improvements." These included "limitations on the scope of the authorization," he said.
Some Senate Republicans said Mr. Daschle's unwillingness to sign on to the agreement is a sign of trouble ahead on the Senate floor next week. Three Republicans Mr. Lugar and Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have co-sponsored Mr. Biden's plan, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, is likely to support it as well.
"We're going to have problems over here," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican. "This is going to be a very divided Senate. I think they'll be close votes. A lot of Democrats do not want to give the president this authority. The McDermotts of the Senate are going to show their stripes."
Democrats and Republicans predicted a strong vote of support for the resolution in the House next week, with even some liberal Democrats saying there would be at least 325 votes in favor of it.
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, predicted eventual victory in the Senate as well.
"Mr. President, we delivered for your father. We will deliver for you," he said in the Rose Garden. "And I predict, while the vote was a margin of five in '91, it'll be a stronger bipartisan margin this time."
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, suggested action against Iraq should have been undertaken in 1998, when President Clinton won congressional support against Saddam.
"I'd like to thank the president for his leadership in addressing a challenge that many of us believe should have been addressed at least four years ago," said Mr. McCain, who lost to Mr. Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primary.

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