- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that he expressed concern about a lack of full White House consultation with Congress on Iraq and North Korea as a means of "instruction only."

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said he worries that junior senators on the Armed Services Committee are not able to keep as well informed as seasoned military experts like him and fellow veteran Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

"You're looking at an old salt," Mr. Warner, 75, said, adding that he, "personally," has enough information to judge the Iraqi and North Korean situations. "But I feel that there are other new members [of the committee] who aren't as up to speed."

Mr. Warner said he learned during the Vietnam War how important and fragile congressional and public approval for war can be.

"I recognize the need for Congress to be supportive of the president," Mr. Warner said, reminiscing about when he mingled with protesters on the National Mall more than 30 years ago to get a hands-on sense of the anti-war movement. "The more informed the Congress can be, the better. We should emphasize the strongest possible level of consultation."

Yesterday's public comments were the first by Mr. Warner since it was reported that he and other senior Republican senators grilled White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. last week over keeping Congress largely out of the loop regarding important military matters.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and incoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican poised to take over the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Intelligence, were among those who talked with Mr. Card.

Mr. Roberts downplayed any reported conflict between the White House and key Republican senators, calling the conversation with Mr. Card "routine" and "not particularly critical."

"Any time [the press] gets a whiff of any member of a party who is allegedly going upstream or splashing around when there's an administration of the same party, it's news," Mr. Roberts said.

"If you get a statement, 'Hey you're doing a good job of keeping us posted, and we think we're on top of this, and we'll move your budget requests and expedite it because we know it has to happen' heck, that's not news."

Mr. Roberts, however, said he told Mr. Card that "from an intelligence committee standpoint, it would be nice to have a team effort."

Better cooperation is needed from all areas of government, he said, including the separate House and Senate intelligence committees.

"It's just that in this critical period with all these threats that are popping up, remember us. We're here to help," Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. McCain joked yesterday that he and other senior senators get more information about war and foreign policy through back channels and newspapers than through official briefings. Yet he said Mr. Warner was right to voice his complaints.

"Senator Warner and Senator Stevens are concerned and I support them," Mr. McCain said, stressing, however, that he gives the Bush administration a passing grade on communicating about impending war.

"The president has done a good job informing Congress and the American people," Mr. McCain said. "He just has to keep it up."

Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" yesterday that "part of the problem is that [the committee members] haven't been in Washington as a group."

"The administration hasn't had an opportunity to keep us briefed as well as they could," said Mr. Allard, who is near the middle of the pack in Republican seniority on the Armed Services Committee. "[Mr. Warner] was just reminding the administration that Congress does play a role in this. I think that reminder needed to be made, and we can move forward from here."

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