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Senate Democrats wrestle with Iraq

Bush increases pressures for resolution

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle  

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Under pressure from the White House for a show of support, Senate Democrats wrestled Friday with how to endorse President Bush's efforts to force Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. resolutions on disarmament.

Under one proposal being advanced by Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lawmakers would vote on a resolution expressing support for support for Bush's efforts to confront Iraq through the United Nation. But the measure would stop short -- for now -- of sanctioning any unilateral U.S. military strike against Iraq.

An aide to a member of the GOP leadership said Republicans would likely not go along with such an approach. Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said he wants the Senate to vote on a resolution of force soon.

Friday, Bush turned up the heat on Democrats, lashing out at the suggestion that Congress ought to wait for the United Nations to act before approving a resolution of force against Iraq.

"I can't imagine a elected member of the United States Senate or House of Representatives saying, 'I think I'm going to wait for the United Nations to make a decision.' It seems like to me if you're representing the United States, you ought to be making a decision on what is best for the United States.

"If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I would explain to the American people ... 'Vote for me and, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act,' " Bush said.

Democrats, who control the Senate, bristled at the presidential rebuke.

"Daschle has said when [the president] sends up a resolution, we'll take it up," said a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota. "Daschle has consistently said it is preferable, but not essential for the U.N. to act first."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, said he was taken aback by the president's comments.

"I am a little surprised by that statement," said Dorgan. "What I said yesterday was that the president shifted in the right direction."

"If the president requests us to vote on a resolution, I think we'll do that. He's make no such request nor has Senator Lott," said Dorgan, echoing remarks made Thursday by Daschle.

"If the president wants Congress to have a debate and a vote, I believe Congress will have a debate and a vote."

Daschle Thursday left the door open for a Senate debate on a resolution giving Bush the power to use force against Iraq, saying it was "likely" to happen should the president request it.

Levin, D-Michigan, said he is consulting with his colleagues about bringing a resolution endorsing the president's U.N. efforts before the Senate as early as next week.

The move, Democratic aides said, would allow senators to show solidarity with Bush as he tries to build support at the United Nations, while deferring a vote sanctioning military force against Saddam, which some believe is premature.

"I believe that Congress should support a request to the United Nations and set a deadline," said Levin. "We ought to speak with one voice urging the U.N. to act."

Levin is floating the idea to the Democratic leadership and colleagues on the Armed Services committee, trying to gain support.

Privately, some Democrats say they fear they will open themselves up politically to charges of being weak on the issue unless they are on record supporting Bush.

One prominent Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, took to the Senate floor Friday to make a case that Saddam is a menace who must be removed as soon as possible, by any means possible. Bush, he said, effectively explained "why war may now be necessary" and he urged his colleagues to "go forward together with him."

"Everyday Saddam remains in power is a day of danger for the Iraqi people, for Iraq's neighbors, for the American people and for the world," said Lieberman, a potential 2004 presidential contender.

Lieberman has historically been hawkish when it comes to Saddam. He was one of only 10 Democrats in 1991 who voted to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

Lieberman pledged to work with his Democratic colleagues and the president to come up with a resolution that would gain "bipartisan support for the president, as commander-in-chief, as he works to protect our nation and the world from Saddam Hussein."

But other Democrats, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden, D-Delaware, said it was premature for the president to ask Congress for permission to use military action.

"It's premature to put the cart before the horse," Biden said Thursday. "If we have a resolution, what's the point of hearings? Vote first, listen later? We should be deliberate about this. We should make sure the country is behind us."

Biden also argued for delay in congressional action until after the elections to take the politics out of the debate.




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