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Profile: House And Senate Vote Overwhelmingly To Approve Resolution Allowing President Bush Considerable Latitude In Using Force Against Iraq

Morning Edition: October 11, 2002

Congress Approves Iraq Resolution

BOB EDWARDS, host:

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

After a long debate, the Senate early this morning voted for a resolution leaving it up to the president to decide whether to seek military action against Iraq. The lopsided vote, 77-to-23, reflected solid support from Republicans and a split among Democrats, as did yesterday's 296-to-133 vote in the House. Proponents predict the broad congressional backing for the measure will prompt the United Nations to adopt a tough new resolution on Iraq. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

There was never any doubt that the war powers resolution backed by the White House would pass both chambers of Congress. The question was always by how big a margin. Fueling the uncertainty was the fact that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had refused to join the other three top congressional leaders last week when they went to the White House and declared their support for a revised resolution. Daschle insisted the measure could still be improved. But yesterday on the floor of the Senate, he declared his intention to vote for the resolution.

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Senate Majority Leader): It is fundamentally different and a better resolution than the one the president sent to us. It is neither a Democratic resolution or a Republican resolution. It is now a statement of American resolve and values.

WELNA: At the insistence of congressional Democrats, the scoop of the original resolution was narrowed to give the president power to use military force only against Iraq. If he does so, he must also notify Congress that diplomatic measures won't serve to protect the US from Iraq and he must also report on the Iraq situation to Congress at least every 60 days. Virginia Republican John Warner said the onus is now on the United Nations to act.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): The action by the Senate today in voting a strong bipartisan vote for this resolution is not an act of war. It is an act to declare war, to put in place the tools for our president, our secretary of State to get the strongest possible resolution in the United Nations.

WELNA: But for West Virginia's Robert Byrd, the Senate's most senior Democrat and chief opponent of the resolution, the Senate's vote was what he called one horrible mistake.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): This is my 50th year in Congress and I never would have thought that I'd find a Senate which would lack the backbone to stand up against the stampede, this rush to war, this rush to give to the president of the United States, to let him determine alone when he will send the sons and daughters of the American people into war.

WELNA: Byrd was rebuffed in two attempts to amend the resolution and set limits on its duration. Democrats who supported the resolution, though, often did so while criticizing some of its elements. New York Democrat Hillary Clinton said she was voting for it even though it did not place enough emphasis on diplomacy and weapons inspections.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war. It is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president and we say to him, `Use these powers wisely and as a last resort.'

WELNA: Other Democrats who oppose the measure warned it could set a dangerous precedent by allowing military action against Iraq simply because that country is perceived to be a threat to the US. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said the US has always drawn a bright line about being a defensive nation.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Historically, we have said it is not enough that you have a weapon that might hurt us. Think of 50 years of Cold War, when the Soviet Union had missiles poised and pointed at us. It's not enough that you just possess those weapons. We will watch to see if you make any effort toward hurting anyone in the United States, any of our citizens or our territory.

WELNA: Durbin said the resolution should have called for action only against an imminent threat, but Arizona Republican Jon Kyl said that was too tall an order.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): It is virtually impossible for us to know when a threat is imminent; a threat posed by a regime such as Saddam Hussein's or a group of terrorists. These people do not announce their threats in advance. They conceal their intentions, as well as their capabilities, and it is very difficult for us to know that precise moment at which the threat is imminent.

WELNA: Now that President Bush has the resolution he sought from Congress, Democrat Joe Biden, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, says the president owes some further explanations.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): He has not yet made the case to the American people that the United States may have to solve this problem alone or with relatively few people or has he told us of the sacrifices that such a course of action will involve.

WELNA: Biden says the president assured him that if it does come to using military force against Iraq, he will tell Americans what they're in for. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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