- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Top congressional Democrats yesterday backed off objections to voting before the midterm elections on a resolution on Iraq, saying President Bush had made a compelling case at home and abroad for the use of force.
"I think there will be a vote well before the election. I think that it's important to work together to achieve that," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who last week called for U.N. action as a condition for a vote in Congress. "The real question is what will the resolution say.
"Our view is we ought to get on with the next phase," Mr. Daschle said. "We've begun to see a growing level of international support."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who last week urged Congress not to vote on action against Iraq before the Nov. 5 elections, said yesterday that he was willing to consider a resolution sooner.
"The president's plan is working," Mr. Biden said. "This should be a cooperative thing. We are not at odds with the president."
Republican senators met with Vice President Richard B. Cheney to prepare a resolution, a draft of which lawmakers said could be presented to Congress as early as this week.
"We emphasized the sooner, the better," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. "The [White House] lawyers are crafting it."
Mr. Daschle, along with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican; and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, will have a breakfast meeting with Mr. Bush today to discuss the resolution.
Republicans and many Democrats said Iraq's pledge to accept U.N. weapons inspectors would not delay or derail work on a use-of-force resolution.
"It does not change the strategy at all," said Mr. McCain, emerging from the meeting with Mr. Cheney. "He, like the rest of us, expressed extreme skepticism when they claim they have no weapons of mass destruction."
Mr. McCain said he preferred the measure to be modeled after the 1991 resolution that authorized Mr. Bush's father to use force against Iraq. He said such a resolution would pass with "70 to 75 votes" in the Senate.
Other Republicans said the defiance of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein makes the crafting of such a measure simple. "We don't need new language," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. "We're just going to add new grievances."
Democrats were more cautious about the resolution's language.
"We don't know what the administration wants to do," Mr. Daschle said. "We don't know whether it's a use of force, whether it's sending a clear resolution to the United Nations, what it is we're going to do."
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, advocated a resolution that would declare support only for Mr. Bush's request for the U.N. Security Council to take action against Iraq.
"I would be in favor of our supporting rapidly some kind of resolution that purely indicates our support of the president and the initiative to the United Nations," Mr. Kerry said. "But I think it's premature to start going beyond that when you don't know what that vetting process is going to produce."
Last week, most Democrats were reluctant to consider a resolution before the midterm elections. Democrats explained their quick turnabout in terms of increasing international support since Mr. Bush's speech to the United Nations on Thursday.
"That one is probably the one we're most sensitive to," Mr. Daschle said.
Mr. Bush has been winning the debate at home as well. An ABC News/Newsweek poll released Monday showed that two-thirds of Americans supported using military force against Iraq. The survey showed that support for such action had increased among Democrats and independents.
The administration also continued to press for concessions abroad, with U.S. officials saying yesterday they would seek permission from Britain to base a small number of Air Force B-2 stealth bombers on Diego Garcia. Deployment on the Indian Ocean island would cut flight times to Iraq in half, compared with basing in the United States.
On Friday, Mr. Bush warned Democrats publicly that they might pay a price at the polls in November for not taking action against Iraq.
In a conference call Saturday morning among top Democrats, Mr. Biden said he urged Mr. Daschle and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to cooperate with the White House on a resolution.
"We want unity in whatever action we take," Mr. Biden said. "If we can work it out, that's fine, we'll work it out."
On the Senate floor yesterday, several Democrats suggested another explanation for their turnaround: The debate on Iraq was drowning out their message on traditional Democratic campaign themes.
"What will be the real objective and issue that we will really make the centerpiece for our discussion over the next seven weeks before this election?" said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. "It's very clear what the president wants to focus on. He wants to focus exclusively on the issue of Iraq."
Mr. Durbin added, "Can the White House find time in the busy schedule of dealing with national security and making campaign trips to raise money for candidates to give us one hour a week to talk about health care? I don't think that's too much to ask."
Mr. Daschle said Democrats believe that the economy "has largely been a neglected issue."
"We intend to raise the consciousness level of where we are in the economy," Mr. Daschle said. "The record of this administration on the economy is abysmal."
Mr. Gephardt will announce an effort with other House Democrats today to bring up a bill for affordable prescription drugs, another topic that has been overshadowed by the debate over Iraq.
The Democrats' reluctance to vote on Iraq before Congress adjourns in October is becoming an election issue. In South Dakota, the Senate Democrats' most vulnerable incumbent, Sen. Tim Johnson, came under fire this week from the campaign of his challenger, Republican Rep. John Thune, and from veterans for his 1991 vote against the Iraq resolution.
The Thune campaign issued a news release calling on Mr. Johnson "to support the authorization for the use of force against Iraq, rather than voting against the resolution as he did in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush was president."
In Minnesota, another vulnerable Democratic incumbent, Sen. Paul Wellstone, received similar treatment from Republican challenger Norm Coleman.
"The president delivered a convincing and compelling case against Hussein," Mr. Coleman said. "The U.S. Congress should be the first to give its support for the president."

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