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Analysis: Building Support In Congress For President's Resolution Against Iraq

Morning Edition: October 10, 2002

Iraq Debate Continues, Vote Near


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

Congress is close to granting President Bush the power to go to war against Iraq. A final vote in the House is expected later today. The vote may come later in the Senate, but even there, support appears to be building. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

It was Florida Democrat Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who yesterday made the first effort to change the White House-backed Iraq resolution on the Senate floor. Graham proposed an amendment authorizing President Bush to also use force against five Middle Eastern terrorist groups, which he warned could launch attacks inside the US if there's an invasion of Iraq.

Senator BOB GRAHAM (Democrat, Florida; Chairman, Intelligence Committee): If you reject that, the American people are not going to be at additional threat, then, frankly, my friends, to use a blunt term, the blood's going to be on your hands.

WELNA: But the Senate voted 88 to 10 to reject Graham's amendment. Opponents argued that it might slow down efforts to approve a resolution that matches the one before the House. And Arizona Republican John McCain, who's co-sponsoring the White House-backed proposal, seemed unfazed by predictions in a CIA assessment made public late Monday. That report maintained that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to use chemical or biological weapons against the US unless he's attacked.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Perhaps Saddam Hussein, in his desperation, may want to use a weapon of mass destruction, but if Saddam Hussein does not comply and continues the clear record of violations that he has amassed over the last 11 years, then if we have to go and remove these weapons of mass destruction, each day that goes by, he becomes more dangerous; his capabilities become better. And in the case of nuclear weapons, it's not a question of whether; it's a question of when.

WELNA: Last night, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the only alternative resolution the Senate will vote on. It calls on Congress to wait for the UN to take strong action, and it authorizes the use of military force for any UN-backed enforcement of resolutions on Iraq.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): The authorization for pre-emptive, unilateral US action in Iraq does not need to and should not be granted at this time. If the UN doesn't act, Congress can be called back promptly to consider a request to authorize force unilaterally and to consider the serious and different risks that are involved in pursuing a unilateral course.

WELNA: Levin argues that if Congress authorizes a `go it alone' approach, it will take the pressure off the UN to act. But his Democratic colleague and chief sponsor of the White House-backed resolution, Joe Lieberman, disagrees.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I believe the best way for us to get the United Nations to act to enforce its own resolutions is if we make clear that we're prepared to do so ourselves if they don't, although that is not our preference.

WELNA: Several other Democrats who've urged caution on Iraq said yesterday they plan to vote for Lieberman's resolution. Christopher Dodd is a Connecticut Democrat.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Ultimately, my main reason for supporting the resolution is that I believe that the chances of avoiding war with Iraq are enhanced substantially if this country is united as a nation.

WELNA: Another skeptic, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, also declared his support, but he did so with some reservations.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): The administration has yet to define an end game in Iraq or explain the extent of the American commitment if regime change is required or describe how our actions in Iraq might affect our other many interests and commitments around the world.

WELNA: The Senate is likely to vote on several more amendments in the Levin Resolution today, and Majority Leader Tom Daschle is aiming to get to a final vote by late tonight or early tomorrow, although senior Democrat Robert Byrd, the leading opponent of the war resolution, has vowed to press his delaying tactics as long as he can. But a large majority from both parties is expected to approve giving President Bush the war powers he seeks. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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