- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Republicans in Congress yesterday swiftly laid plans to vote early next month on a resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq, while top Democrats balked at voting before the November elections.
"The American people deserve to know where their elected representatives stand on an issue of this import," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. "This is an issue that will involve the expenditure of American blood and treasure."
Within hours of Mr. Bush's speech to the United Nations that many lawmakers called forceful, congressional Republicans were working with the White House to vote on a resolution no later than Oct. 11. But Democrats, worried about the political implications of opposing the president so close to crucial midterm elections, sought a delay.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said Congress should wait until after the Nov. 5 election.
"I think we should give the president a little breathing room," Mr. Biden said. "We should all just calm down a little bit. Some issues are so serious that they should in fact be taken as far out of the realm of politics as possible. This is one of those issues."
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, refused to commit to a timetable.
"It is not wise or possible now to be setting a timeline," Mr. Gephardt said. "You don't just rush to judgment because a few people have made up their mind."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, has asked National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to send a draft of the use-of-force resolution to Congress by the week of Sept. 23. The lead House Republicans on the effort will be International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
To build support for the resolution, Mr. DeLay will present lawmakers next week with a file of public information about Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Hyde's panel will begin hearings next week on Iraq's weapons programs and intends to call Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell the following week.
The timing of the vote is important, the administration says, because Congress intends to adjourn by Oct. 11 for the elections and may not return until January. The White House says Iraq's continued efforts to build nuclear weapons might not allow for such a delay.
"History doesn't wait for congressional elections," said a senior House Republican aide.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Congress needs to know how much support the international community will give before lawmakers vote.
"I don't think anyone is committed to a course of action legislatively or militarily at this point," Mr. Daschle said.
Republicans said Democrats have insisted on a congressional resolution on Iraq in recent weeks as the White House increased its rhetoric about military action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"I think they protest too much," Mr. Lott said of the Democrats. "We must vote to show support for the president right now. It's vital for the Congress to show the world that we back this president and will give the authority he needs to protect the American people and the world community."
And a senior White House adviser said the administration needs backing from Congress to make its case to the world, not the other way around.
The last time Congress voted on such a resolution against Iraq, in January 1991, it was a close vote in the Senate despite Saddam having invaded Kuwait. The Senate tally was 52-47, and 20 Democrats who are still in the Senate voted no then, including Mr. Daschle.
Four Democrats still serving in the Senate voted yes in 1991: Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Bob Graham of Florida, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Harry Reid of Nevada. The only Republican senator who voted no in 1991 and is still in office is Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.
The House vote in 1991 was 250-183 in favor of the use of force.
Mr. McCain, who is often at odds with the White House, said he is confident the president will win bigger majorities on a resolution than his father did in 1991.
"I've talked to many of my Democrat colleagues," Mr. McCain said. "Yes, they have concerns. But I believe at the end of the day, when it comes to vote I am convinced that there will be a much larger majority in favor than there was in 1991."
He said Mr. Bush deserves a vote before Congress adjourns next month because "he needs to tell our allies and people throughout the world that the American people are behind him." And Mr. McCain said U.S. troop movements in the Middle East will take time before any action can begin.
"I would not like, as a representative of the people of Arizona, to vote ex post facto," Mr. McCain said. "I think that it would be important that Congress express its will before this military buildup begins."
Mr. Lott said he has spoken to Mr. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Miss Rice about the timing. "And they all said 'We think this needs to happen within the next month,'" Mr. Lott said. "We're going to be here at least a month. And how much time is needed to deal with this very serious issue?"
Republican lawmakers said they expect the Democrat-led Senate to delay action on a resolution.
"My biggest concern on that is Saddam Hussein will die of old age before the Senate leadership gets it on their floor," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
Although many Democrats questioned the timing of further action, few criticized Mr. Bush's speech to the United Nations. Mr. Lieberman said it was "powerful."
"President Bush delivered a powerful and convincing indictment of Saddam Hussein and the grave threat he poses not just to the United States and the people of the world, but to the legitimacy and authority of the United Nations, which Saddam has outrageously defied and deceived for more than a decade," Mr. Lieberman said.
Stephen Dinan and Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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