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Analysis: Efforts to Bring Resolution on Iraq to Senate Floor

All Things Considered: October 3, 2002

Iraq Resolution Language



JACKI LYDEN, host:

Watching the Senate debate for us is NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Steve, explain Senator Byrd's objection to the debate, would you?

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

Jacki, Senator Byrd considers himself a strict constitutionalist. In fact, he was waving around his copy of the Constitution this afternoon. And he is especially a constitutionalist when it comes to any particular powers of the Congress and particularly the United States Senate. And he's argued for weeks, if not longer, that President Bush is simply rolling right over the Congress here.

Despite those objections, I have to say that it does appear that President Bush is likely to get some kind of congressional approval to start a war, should he choose, against Iraq. The debate begins with this plan that was announced yesterday in which the president would be granted by Congress the power to go to war even without the approval of the United Nations, although he'd be encouraged to seek that, and also without further approval from Congress.

LYDEN: We've been talking about bipartisan support that the president has had for this plan up to now. But is there also the presence of some bipartisan uneasiness?

INSKEEP: Absolutely. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who's one of the most respected people up here, really, particularly on foreign affairs matters, is one of a number of senators from both parties who are arguing that this resolution is simply too broad. They are not arguing against going to war so much as arguing against giving the president unlimited or nearly unlimited power to go to war on his own initiative. Lugar is arguing that he trusts President George W. Bush with whatever authority Congress may give him, but he argues that this resolution could set bad precedence, that he's thinking about history. One example he gives is that the current proposal would allow the president to go to war against Iraq if Iraq is failing to follow any, any, United Nations resolution concerning the country, and there are, as we've often heard, as many as 16 of those resolutions. They go far beyond the issue of just eliminating weapons of mass destruction. There are resolutions about treating the Iraqi people better, resolutions about returning Kuwaiti prisoners of war from the Gulf War. And Lugar says, `Listen, no president is really going to want to go to war over that, so why would you write in that power? Why not limit the language a little bit more than they have?'

LYDEN: Steve, are any of these lawmakers advancing what might be called an anti-war resolution?

INSKEEP: Not really. You're hearing it in speeches. You're hearing certain people denounce the idea of going to war or simply saying that it's unwise to go to war at this time. But the closest thing we've seen in terms of a resolution to deal with that uneasiness comes from Carl Levin, a Democrat of Michigan. He's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's put in a resolution that would require the president to go get approval from the United Nations before he would have the power to go to war, and then goes on to say, `Look, if you try to get approval from the United Nations, if you fail, then you can come back to Congress and we will stand in waiting throughout the fall, if necessary, in order to provide you that power later if you can't.' So Levin is trying to slow things down, give the president additional power a little bit at a time. But even that resolution assumes that something must be done against Saddam Hussein here. That issue doesn't really seem to be up for debate, at least as far as the language that's going to be passed here.

LYDEN: At the same time that the Senate is debating, the House is moving ahead with its own version of a war resolution. How soon might Congress approve action?

INSKEEP: Well, we're told, Jacki, that a House committee, the Foreign--the International Relations Committee, rather, in the House has already passed a resolution this afternoon, and that frees the full House to act. We could see debate beginning perhaps Monday or Tuesday in the House of Representatives essentially on the plan that President Bush and House leaders from both parties agreed on yesterday, which gives broad authority to the president to go to war, although not quite as broad as he had asked for. The Senate is hoping for a very similar schedule, although things are much more in the air. Democratic and Republican leaders have begun the debate today. They say they are hoping that perhaps by sometime next week they might be able to come to a final vote, but that may still be up for some discussion. Some senators are ready to talk for quite a long time.

LYDEN: Well, thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Happy to help.

LYDEN: NPR's Steve Inskeep reporting from Capitol Hill.

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