Daschle to push measure backing Israel
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite White House reservations about congressional action on the Mideast conflict, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, told President Bush Wednesday morning he intends to bring a resolution supporting Israel before the Senate as early as this week.
The move prompted House Republicans -- who fear losing the political edge to their Democratic rivals in the Senate -- to speed action on a similar resolution they had pulled from the floor late last week at the insistence of the White House.
Republican aides said the resolution could be considered this week.
The Senate resolution, sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, expresses "solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism."
"I told the president that it was my intention to bring the resolution to the floor sometime very soon, perhaps as early as this week, and that it was important for the Senate to go on record," Daschle said. "I think the Lieberman resolution is a very appropriate way in which to state our continued allegiance and alliance with Israel and I hope that that will happen."
The House resolution goes further. In addition to expressing support for the Jewish state, it is critical of Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat. And in a nod to political concerns inside the White House, it also praises President Bush's handling of the ongoing crisis.
Both Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, have signed onto the "non-binding" Sense of the Senate resolution.
Daschle earlier had been reluctant to go forward while the situation was still volatile and Secretary of State Colin Powell was trying to initiate negotiations. He did not want to send mixed signals that Powell would have to explain, Daschle had said.
But congressional aides on both sides of the aisle say lawmakers are making a push now because they want to make a statement of support for Israel before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits the United States next week.
Daschle pressed the issue at a bipartisan breakfast with House and Senate leaders Wednesday morning.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer offered a cautious response.
"The president understands Congress wanted to express its point of view, and we'll continue to work collectively and cooperatively with the Congress. The Congress also understands that it's important in the world of foreign policy not to have 535 secretaries of state," he told reporters Wednesday.
The White House last week persuaded House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to postpone action on his own resolution in the House for fear it would "inflame the situation," according to a White House aide.
Daschle said he is in consultation with the White House about the language in the Senate resolution, suggesting some modifications are possible.
However, he made it clear the senators "don't need an endorsement" from the White House.
"What we need is just a clear understanding on all sides that we are not going to offer amendments, we are not going to be one-upping each other here," Daschle said. "There are a lot of ways, rhetorically or legislatively that we might get into some sort of bidding war on statements that I think could be counterproductive. What we want is a simple opportunity for us to again reassert our strong support and our friendship with Israel."
The resolution as currently written states clear support for Israel's actions in the past month, even though the White house repeatedly called on Sharon to use restraint.
"The Senate stands in solidarity with Israel, a front-line state in the war against terrorism, as it takes necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas," read the resolution.
It also "demands that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its commitment to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas."
An aide to Lieberman said the senator consulted with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the language.
"We're trying to balance their interests. No one said 'don't do it,' and no one demanded changes in the language," said the aide.
Daschle said he will consult with both Lieberman and Lott for the exact timing of Senate action.
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