Lawmakers applaud Bush speech
Differences linger on congressional resolution
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's speech to the United Nations assailing Saddam Hussein was widely applauded Thursday by U.S. lawmakers as a key move in building a case against the Iraqi leader, but several, mostly Democrats, said they are still not convinced that now is the time for a unilateral U.S. military strike.
They said international reaction to the president's address would be key in determining how -- and whether -- Congress would endorse military action against Iraq. And they said the United Nations must be given a chance to act on the president's challenge.
But two top Senate Republicans called on Congress to act soon on passing a resolution authorizing the use of force and they predicted it would happen.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Congress needed to take the lead and "give the president all the authority he would need" in going after Saddam.
"We must vote to show support for the president right now," said Lott, who was joined at a news conference by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. "This is a question of leadership and action."
Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California, struck a more tentative note.
"This is an excellent first step," said Pelosi, who has been outspoken about her skepticism of any plans for military action against Iraq. Pelosi said she supported Bush's call for renewed U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq to make certain that Saddam is complying with resolutions put into place in 1991 after the Gulf War. The United States and Britain accuse Saddam of amassing weapons of mass destruction, including work on a nuclear weapons program, a charge Iraq denies.
As for the possibility of war, Pelosi called that "another skin off the onion" and said she still had questions about that prospect, including the scope and duration of any U.S. operation.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, called the speech "a constructive and positive step" in building a strategy to deal with Saddam, one that he said should focus on diplomacy "if we can."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, described himself as "encouraged" by Bush's stated desire to rally the international community and build a coalition against Saddam. "Every time the president continues to speak out and speak to each of us he strengthens his case," he said. "I think it was helpful. I don't think it was conclusive."
Daschle made it clear he was far from supporting any sort of congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
"There are a number of questions that remain about this effort," Daschle said, citing the reaction of the international community to Bush's speech, the effect a strike against Iraq would have on the war on terrorism and U.S. plans for what would replace Saddam's regime in Iraq.
Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Bush's speech a "powerful indictment" of Saddam and commended the president for going before the United Nations. But he called it "premature" for Congress to consider a resolution of force.
"We should be deliberate about this," Biden said. "We should make sure the country is behind us."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said it would be a mistake for Congress to act before the United Nations, given that Bush has now challenged the international body to step in and enforce its resolutions.
"I think you need to give this United Nation process a legitimate opportunity, and we don't want to see this initiative turned into a charade where it is merely pro-forma step on a road to an already determined decision," Kerry said.
Some lawmakers, including Republicans, said Bush's speech before the United Nations underscored the need for further diplomatic efforts.
"I was pleased President Bush did not yet call for military intervention in Iraq," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska. "War should never be the first option in foreign affairs. It should be the last."
Hagel said it was up to the United Nations "to respond to the challenge" laid out by Bush.
But Lott said Congress ought to act, independent of whatever the international body might do.
"One of the considerations here is time," Lott said, talking about Saddam. "With every passing day, every passing week, he gathers greater capability and the threat is even greater."
And McCain, Bush's onetime GOP rival in the 2000 presidential primary, praised Bush's "well-planned effort" to eliminate what he described as a threat from Saddam. He said Congress should pass a resolution before the end of this session, which winds up in about a month.
"He needs to tell our allies and the people around the world that the American people are behind him," McCain said.
McCain expressed serious doubts that Saddam would comply with a new round of U.N. weapons inspections.
"Saddam Hussein is as likely to allow a robust and effective weapons inspection regime as I am to be the next astronaut," McCain said. "He is not going to do it."
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