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Analysis: Congressional Democrats Struggle With How They Should Respond to President Bush's Demands For Fast Action on Iraq

Morning Edition: September 20, 2002

Democrats Respond


Congressional Democrats have been struggling for weeks with how they should respond to President Bush's demands for fast action on Iraq. With midterm elections only weeks away and control of both chambers of Congress at stake, some Democrats say Republican candidates are using the Iraq issue to pump up their campaigns. And those Democrats say the sooner they deal with Iraq, the better, especially now that the White House has sent Congress a proposed resolution on the matter. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Last night, after examining the draft resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Senate Democrats generally agreed the powers it grants the president are too sweeping. Some even called it a blank check. But instead of rejecting the document, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he intended to work through the weekend with administration officials and GOP lawmakers to reach a consensus. Daschle seemed resigned to doing what had to be done on Iraq.

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Majority Leader): The process is what it is and we have to deal with it. We may not appreciate the fact that it keeps us from doing many of the other things that are important to us as well, but I don't think that we have to do this exclusively.

WELNA: Daschle is among those Democrats who prefer dealing with Iraq now rather than later. Earlier this week, he predicted a vote on an Iraq resolution well before the election. Another Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, said last night that vote should not be delayed.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I'd say as soon as possible, as soon as there's either agreement or there's disagreement and, therefore, we just go to the floor and debate it and have it subject to amendment.

WELNA: But other Senate Democrats say lawmakers should take their time dealing with Iraq. Joe Biden is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee): I don't see any need for us to rush pell-mell into this. I'm holding hearings next week, the Armed Services Committee is holding hearings this week. We'll flesh out exactly what it is the administration is seeking, where they think and at what pace we should move.

WELNA: For Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, Congress should at least hold off authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Iraq has said, without condition, `We will admit weapons inspectors.' It's worth a try to me. Now if that fails, then would I vote for use of force? The answer is probably very likely.

WELNA: Some House Democrats are even more adamant about opposing military action against Iraq. Outside the Capitol yesterday, 18 of those lawmakers joined Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

Senator DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): We may not represent a majority in the Congress yet, but I will submit to you that the feelings expressed here by these members represent the feelings of the majority of the American people. What our leaders do, you know, we can't predict, but our leaders have to pay attention to us.

WELNA: House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt has taken a more hawkish stance on Iraq after having opposed the Gulf War resolution under the first President Bush. But the number two Democrat in the house, Whip Nancy Pelosi, said yesterday that now is not the appropriate time for Congress to debate war with Iraq.

Senator NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): I do think it would be a good idea if we would have this debate after Congress adjourns, after the election, and come back, as we did in 1990. We adjourned for the 1990 elections under President Bush's father and we came back in January, and the new Congress came in and made the decision.

WELNA: But since Republicans control the House and its agenda, Democratic representatives will likely have little say about when the Iraq debate takes place in their chamber. For New York House Democrat Anthony Weiner, the sooner the better.

Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): I think it'll cease to be much of a political issue after there's an overwhelming vote, which, frankly, I expect that there will be. It's still going to be news, but as far as whether it's going to be caught up in the maelstrom of the midterm elections, I think it'll be less so if we consider the thing now.

WELNA: And Weiner and other Democrats hope more attention will then be focused on the economic issues that they say favor their candidates in the midterm elections. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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