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Daschle predicts Iraq vote before recess

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress will vote on a resolution about war with Iraq "well before the election, " despite the nation's last-minute pledge to allow the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle predicted Tuesday.

"I think there will be a vote well before the election, and I think it's important that we work together to achieve it," said Daschle, who had been pressed by some Democrats to hold off action on the resolution until after November's mid-term election.

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Despite his prediction of congressional action, Daschle said he remains skeptical the White House had proven its case that war is necessary. Other lawmakers doubt the veracity of President Saddam Hussein's promise to cooperate with weapons inspectors.

"We may not have conclusive evidence regarding the specifics, but we have ample evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein is every bit as dangerous as he's been at any time in the last 10 years," he said.

Details of what the resolution would say and when Congress might vote on it were being worked out by White House and congressional officials. Daschle, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt are scheduled to meet with President Bush Wednesday morning to work the resolution's details.

That meeting comes on the heels of a Capitol Hill visit by Vice President Dick Cheney Tuesday and just ahead of a series of appearances by top cabinet officials before several congressional panels examining Iraq policy this week and next.

Members from both parties have predicted a resolution will pass both chambers overwhelmingly.

"The intent would be to give the president of the United States approval to do what's necessary," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Iraq's decision to allow the return of inspectors shouldn't change U.S. strategy, said McCain, who supports military action against Iraq.

A direct resolution would be best, said Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. "It should be a straight, simple authorization," she said.

The nation needs to act to stop Saddam, added Gephardt.

"We must now take effective steps to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime," Gephardt said. "We must start by putting the burden of proof on his government to disclose its weapons stockpiles and development programs, not on U.N. inspectors to seek them out as Saddam Hussein continues to hide them."

But Senate Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois said Washington should pay heed to Iraq's overtures, which he termed "a dramatic mark of progress."

"Wouldn't we want to give the U.N. the ability to start inspections, and if they fail we can consider a lot of options?" he asked. "Wouldn't we want to pursue a course of action short of war?"

House Republican Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who has raised questions about going to war with Iraq, also counseled a slower approach.

"I think it was Ronald Reagan who said, 'Trust but verify.' This is a great opportunity to practice that option," he said.

From CNN Producer Ted Barrett, Correspondent Kate Snow and Producer Dana Bash




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