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Analysis: House Begins Debate On Iraq Resolution

All Things Considered: October 8, 2002

Iraq Debate

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm John Ydstie.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

And I'm Jacki Lyden.

The House began debating an Iraq war powers resolution today, with President Bush urging both chambers of Congress to back him in big numbers. A House vote is expected on Thursday, but the debate in the Senate, now in its third day, may stretch into next week. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

While campaigning for Republican congressional candidates in Tennessee today, President Bush seemed fully confident he'll have broad support from Congress in giving this ultimatum to the United Nations on Saddam Hussein.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But my message and the message from the Congress, the people of both political parties, will be for the sake of peace and I emphasis `for the sake of peace.' If they won't deal with this man, the United States of America will lead a coalition to disarm him for the sake of peace.

SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING

WELNA: As the 20-hour debate on an Iraq resolution began this morning in the House, Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee underscored the momentous decision lawmakers face.

Representative SHEILA JACKSON LEE (Democrat, Texas): It is the most serious debate we have had in this Congress since the Vietnam War, which saw 56,000 body bags come home to loved ones in America, and the Gulf War.

WELNA: Congressional Democrats are split over a White House resolution giving the president authority to take unilateral military action against Iraq, but Republicans are far more united behind the president. Here's speaker Dennis Hastert on the House floor today.

Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Republican, Illinois; Speaker of the House): There is no doubt that Iraq supports and harbors those terrorists who wish harm to the United States. Is there a direct connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda? The president thinks so. And based upon what I have seen, I think so also.

WELNA: And Republican Henry Hyde, who heads the House International Relations Committee, warned that the United States cannot wait for the rest of the world to get on board on moving against Iraq.

Representative HENRY HYDE (Republican, Illinois; House International Relations Committee): We cannot entrust our fate to others, for others may never come. If we're not prepared to defend ourselves and defend ourselves alone, if need be, if we cannot convince the world that we are unshakably resolved to do so, then there can be no security for us, no safety to be purchased, no refuge to be found.

WELNA: Many House Democrats also back the White House resolution, including their leader, Dick Gephardt. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who's a Holocaust survivor, compared the threat of Saddam Hussein to that posed by Hitler in 1936.

Representative TOM LANTOS (Democrat, California): If the costs of war are great, the costs of inaction and appeasement are greater still.

WELNA: Dissenting Democrats are clearly in the minority, but they pushed today for more answers to tough questions. California's Barbara Lee said the case has not been made for invading Iraq.

Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California): Where's the proof that Iraq poses an imminent, clear and present danger to the United States? What is our objective here, regime change or the elimination of weapons of mass destruction? Where would this doctrine of pre-emption lead our country?

WELNA: Other Democrats, many of them women like New York's Louise Slaughter, warned colleagues to heed their constituents' misgivings.

Representative LOUISE SLAUGHTER (Democrat, New York): Every bone in my body is telling me that the American people do not want this conflict, nor do they believe this resolution is warranted at this present time. The voices are drowned out by the drumbeat for war emanating from Washington.

WELNA: But the administration contends that a vote now by Congress with strengthen the president's hand, a point made at the Capitol today by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): There is a clear understanding of the fact that the only reason Iraq is trying to respond now is because the threat, of course, is there, and we have to keep that in place.

WELNA: Wrapping up the resolution may take more time than expected, though. It now appears likely Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, will filibuster the measure in the Senate, making it unlikely a vote there could take place before next week. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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