Congress mixed on Iraq resolution
Last line could lead to 'World War III,' critic says
From Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A White House draft of a congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq was met with a decidedly mixed reaction on Capitol Hill, as many rank-and-file Democrats questioned its scope and what they see as a lack of emphasis on international cooperation.
But both Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt said they will work to build bipartisan support for a resolution and many members predicted one will pass in the next few weeks by a wide margin.
"I share the administration's goals in dealing with Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction," said Gephardt, who called the draft "an important first step."
Testifying before the House International Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged legislators to approve the resolution authorizing force, saying not doing so would "undercut my efforts."
"A lukewarm, weak, eviscerated resolution coming out of the Congress would not serve my diplomatic purposes," Powell said.
Daschle, who met for more than two hours behind closed doors with his Democratic caucus, called the resolution "something we can work on" but said "we have a long way to go in working on the draft."
"Our expectation is that we can do it together, our hope is that we can do it together, Republicans and Democrats, we have questions, we have some issues that we want to raise with the administration about the resolution and the wording, but that is to be expected," said Daschle.
Other Democrats coming out the meeting said there was a lot of concern that the language was too broad, particularly the last line of the draft resolution, which says that "force" should be used against "the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."
That line, say some members of Congress, is too vague and could allow the president to use force in other Mideast nations beyond Iraq.
"We are interested in keeping the focus on Iraq, not on other countries in the region that may also pose a threat or a concern to the United States, and I think that is one of the issues we want to raise with the administration as we continue our discussions," said Daschle.
"That is probably a bit ambitious," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, who is generally supportive of using U.S. military force against Saddam Hussein.
"Would this authorize an invasion of Iran? Or how about Syria? They're in the region. I think we ought to stay focused here, and that is staying focused on Iraq," he said.
Also, some key Democrats maintain Congress should vote to support Bush's efforts to push the United Nations toward a multi-lateral approach before authorizing U.S. military action.
"I think clearly there's been movement that we wanted [at the U.N.]," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois. "Now the president sends to Congress this challenge, which basically says, ignore the United Nations, the United States is going to do this alone. I think it's the wrong way to go."
Durbin said he was "disappointed" with the draft resolution.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said: "I'd like the focus of the resolution to be on urging the U.N. to take action, setting a deadline, an ultimatum to have the very strong inspections, to force inspections and to authorize member nations to use military force to implement that resolution calling for the very strong inspections and disarmament."
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said, "The United Nations should be given an opportunity to compel adherence to the 16 or so resolutions in the past which Iraq has effectively not complied with ... maybe some language could be added."
The second-ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said she would not support the resolution in its current form -- in part because of its unilateral approach, she said -- but will keep her mind open if Congress makes changes to the draft language.
But many lawmakers -- mostly Republicans -- point out the United Nations already has passed many resolutions in an attempt to force Hussein to let weapons inspectors back into Iraq and stop his buildup of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
The proposed congressional resolution authorizing force refers to both those U.N. resolutions as well as past congressional votes.
"How many times do we have to do this?" said Sen. Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. "Haven't we been through this, not only the United Nations but in the Senate? So I mean it is time to quit waffling and weaseling around. The United Nations is going to have to get reaction to their resolutions and they are going to have get compliance or we are going to have to back up our very strong words."
Daschle said regardless of whether there is agreement or not, the Senate will take up a resolution as soon as the week of October 1.
The Senate majority leader acknowledged that unlike the resolution authorizing force in response to terrorist attacks last fall, he does not "expect unanimity as there was after 9/11."
Feingold: Resolution an 'affront to the Constitution'
Despite Democratic leaders' desire to get maximum bipartisan support for the resolution, some in their party dismissed outright what the White House sent to Congress.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, called it a "non-starter" and an "affront to the Constitution."
"This proposal is a case of the administration telling Congress to stop asking questions and literally 'leaves it all to us.' To endorse such language would be irresponsible," said Feingold.
The language could lead to a "miniature Armageddon" or "potential World War III," said Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who said he will write an alternative resolution with fellow liberal Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, that would place more pre-conditions on Bush before he could use force in Iraq.
"Nothing in our intelligence suggests that Iraq is ready to attack Washington or Fort Lauderdale," Hastings, of Florida, said.
Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat, agreed.
"There is no question that Saddam Hussein is not a nice person or that he's broken the resolutions of the United Nations, but that does not give us the power to pre-emptively strike a country," he said. "Once you start down that road, where do you stop?"
One Democratic congressional source said the president may have gained some support by leaving out an explicit call for a "regime change" in Iraq.
Others, however, say the language is too vague in that regard.
"I have no hesitation to use force. I believe the threat is real," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. "The president should have maximum flexibility ... but I do think our objectives need to be very clear.
"It may be too vague. It needs to say regime change and for the promotion of some semblance of democratic government."