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Profile: House And Senate Preparing To Vote On A War Resolution Authorizing The Use Of Military Force Against Iraq

Morning Edition: October 9, 2002

Vote Near in Iraq Debate

BOB EDWARDS, host:

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

Congress is preparing to vote on a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. Lawmakers, especially those up for re-election, acknowledge that constituents will be scrutinizing their votes. NPR's Steve Inskeep reports.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

Few senators face a tougher re-election contest than Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. His opponent has been slamming Wellstone for what Republican Norm Coleman calls `extreme positions.' A prime exhibit? Wellstone opposes President Bush's policy on Iraq. But speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Wellstone argued that he was really speaking for his constituents.

Senator PAUL WELLSTONE (Democrat, Minnesota): I don't really know what the breakdown is in terms of X percentage this way or that. But I will tell you this, colleagues, people in Minnesota and our country, they're worried about this. They're worried about our going at it alone. They're worried about what might happen to our sons and daughters in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Two supporters of the war resolution spent time explaining their positions on the Senate floor yesterday. John McCain of Arizona and Evan Bayh of Indiana used their public conversation to try to answer skeptical constituents. McCain noted that Senator Bayh is getting a lot of mail and most of it opposes military action.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): In his home state, there is great concern about going to war. And what led the senator from Indiana to conclude that it was important for him not only to support this resolution, but play the role as a major sponsor?

Senator EVAN BAYH (Republican, Indiana): There has been an expression of concern. And I must say to my friend, it's a concern that I share. There is a reluctance in my heart, as I know there is in yours, to contemplate the use of force. I hope beyond anything else that this does not come to war, that the use of force will not be necessary. But I also believe that the best chance to achieve that outcome is the credible threat of the use of force. Saddam responds to nothing else.

INSKEEP: Bayh's and Wellstone's votes may not be quite as risky as they seem. Wellstone, the war opponent, comes from a traditionally liberal state where many people say they admire him for taking maverick positions. Evan Bayh, the war supporter, represents a conservative state that backed President Bush. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says senators are hearing reminders that their votes may have political consequences.

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Majority Leader): It's too close to an election to expect that this issue could be totally depoliticized at this point. I think there are those who are going to use it for short-term political gain regardless of how repulsive that effort may be.

INSKEEP: Daschle says he wants to modify the war resolution, but says he will likely support it in the end.

Whatever the politics of the moment, President Bush and his supporters appear to have acknowledged this week that many lawmakers and many voters have genuine questions about their policy. Here in the Senate, the president's backers are seeking to reassure waivering colleagues by saying they are not quite voting for war. Speaking to reporters in a Senate hallway, Republican John Warner suggested that lawmakers are merely voting to show that the US is unified behind the president.

Unidentified Reporter: Senator, knowing what you know about the situation, do you think that Congress is authorizing the president to use force and that he will almost assuredly use that force or not?

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): No, that's not to be implied. I mean, I've, fortunately, been with the president a number of times. I have followed this very closely. He continues to reiterate the use of force is the last option.

INSKEEP: An opponent of the resolution chooses to emphasize the risk of conflict. Democrat Ted Kennedy has been making daily speeches against the president's policy.

Senator TED KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): The debate has been about the resolutions, but not about the war. What will it do in terms of inflaming the Muslim world if the United States has a go-alone policy which this resolution will permit?

INSKEEP: Another opponent, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, is using parliamentary tactics to delay the war resolution, ensuring that senators may talk about the possible conflict for at least a few more days.

And they now have one more fact to consider. Yesterday, the CIA sent a letter to lawmakers predicting that if he fears a US attack, Iraq leader Saddam Hussein might help terrorists to attack the US with chemical or biological weapons. It was a sobering reminder both of the danger of war and of the danger of Saddam Hussein. Steve Inskeep, NPR News, the Capitol.

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