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Analysis: White House-Approved Iraq Resolution Now Moves to the Senate

Morning Edition: October 4, 2002

Iraq Resolution Debate


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Bob Edwards is away. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Just a week before its target date for adjournment, the Senate has set aside a stack of unfinished business to debate a war powers resolution on Iraq. House leaders have agreed to wording worked out with the administration, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has not, and he plans to allow alternative resolutions to be debated on the floor. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

With the White House-approved Iraq resolution now certain to glide through the Republican-run House, all attention is on the often unpredictable Senate, where the rules make every member a king. After a day of behind-the-scenes intrigue and false starts, Majority Leader Daschle came to the floor late yesterday and pleaded for restraint in what promises to be a grueling debate.

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Senate Majority Leader): I want very much for this debate to be respectful, to recognize our solemn obligation as senators to debate, and our role in providing advice and consent on issues of this import.

WELNA: Even before Daschle spoke, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd had already fired a heavy shot across the Bush administration's bow. Byrd warned that in its haste to go after Iraq, the US was embarking on a course of action that he called both blind and improvident.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, unfortunate; all the more so because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics.

WELNA: Byrd also accused his colleagues, saying they were abdicating Congress' exclusive constitutional duty to declare war. Instead, he said, they were handing the president open-ended authority to wage war on Iraq whenever and however he pleased. Meanwhile, Florida Democrat Bob Graham, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA yesterday of obstructionism because it failed to deliver an analysis of how war with Iraq might affect its neighbors. The analysis had been requested by Graham's committee. Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, who's also on the Intelligence Committee, took to the Senate floor to rebut Graham's criticism of the CIA.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): We've gotten all that we need to have access to, and our members have but to ask for that information, and they can get it, and the only information that they can't get is information that we absolutely should not be providing to anybody, including, Mr. President, yourself, myself, and the distinguished minority leader, who's now joined us on the floor.

WELNA: Minority Leader Trent Lott had a different bone to pick. He clearly was not pleased that a number of Democratic senators are planning to introduce a series of amendments to an Iraq resolution.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Minority Leader): I do think we're going to have a problem if we just allow this to be endlessly amended. It'll be a filibuster by amendment, and I do think we need to have a full debate, but be prepared to go to votes on these important issues sometime by the middle of next week.

WELNA: But Majority Leader Daschle asked colleagues to be prepared to debate Iraq all next week. What's more, he made clear that he considers the administration-backed resolution to be still a work in progress.

Sen. DASCHLE: In my view, there is still improvement that I think can be made, and as long as I think there is at least a chance that we could make additional improvements, I want to try to do that.

WELNA: Daschle promised that the first vote the Senate holds will be on an alternative resolution introduced yesterday by the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin. Levin says members of the US military have urged him to push for a resolution that puts more emphasis on action against Iraq by the UN.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Armed Services Committee): By focusing on a tough UN resolution, we can unify the world. It gives us the best chance of forcing compliance. It reduces our risks. It has fewer negative consequences down the road if force is used, and it gives us the best chance of isolating Saddam Hussein, not isolating us.

WELNA: Daschle also promised that the House language the administration likes would also be introduced. He said he himself favors a substitute to be offered by the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joe Biden, and the panel's ranking Republican, Richard Lugar. Lugar says their version would support a military response in Iraq only if Saddam Hussein was found to have violated UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Republican): There are distinctions among the resolutions. This is the point that we were attempting to make before, inadvertently, in our enthusiasm, to have strong support for the president, we write into this resolution more than we intended.

WELNA: Neither of the alternative resolutions is expected to prevail. But they may well prolong a debate that got heated even before it officially began. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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