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WH lawyers: Bush can order Iraq attack

Fleischer: 'Congress has an important role to play'

WH lawyers: Bush can order Iraq attack

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Monday that administration lawyers believe President Bush does not need congressional approval to launch an attack against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But, Fleischer said, any decision would involve more than just legal considerations, including consultation with Congress.

Fleischer said that "in all cases, the president will consult with the Congress because Congress has an important role to play."

He did not say whether such consultation would include a congressional vote approving military action, as was done before the Gulf War in 1991.

"The president knows that any decision he makes on a hypothetical congressional vote will be guided by more than one factor, more than legal factors alone," Fleischer said.

"The president ... would consider a variety of legal, policy, historical factors in making up his mind about this, if it again becomes a relevant matter.

"The president knows that in a democracy, it's vital to have the support of the public if he reaches any point where he makes decisions about military action," Fleischer said.

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Fleischer said White House lawyers believe the president can act on his own for several reasons, including his authority as commander in chief to make military decisions. He said terms of the Gulf War resolution still apply.

The lawyers also believe the president has authority to act under the September 14 congressional resolution approving military action against terrorism, Fleischer said. (Resolution)

'More than just a legal debate'

Bush has made clear he wants to see Saddam's regime toppled, a goal that has sparked debate -- even within Republican circles -- about whether the time is right for any such attack.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt issued a statement Monday saying it was "imperative" that Congress debate and vote on any plan to attack Iraq.

"This issue is much more than just a legal debate. The president will need the decisive support of the public and their elected representatives in order to initiate and sustain the effort that will be required to eliminate the threat posed by this regime," Gephardt said.

Vice President Dick Cheney underscored the White House position Monday that Saddam remains a threat, suggesting action against him must come sooner than later.

"I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein," Cheney said in his speech delivered before a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Nashville, Tennessee. (Full story)

"Some concede that Saddam is evil, power hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed."

Writing on the op-ed page of Sunday's New York Time, former Secretary of State James Baker warned Bush not to "go it alone" against the Iraqi leader. (Full story)

"Although the United States could certainly succeed, we should try our best not to have to go it alone, and the president should reject the advice of those who counsel doing so," wrote Baker, who served in the administration of Bush's father.

But House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas said Bush has the authority to act as commander in chief and he said the president would be right to act soon.

"We ought to let the commander in chief decide when and what he needs to be doing in leading this country," DeLay said on a Sunday talk show.

DeLay said he believes Bush will consult with Congress.

"The president has taken the advice of many of us in Congress; he wants input from Congress," DeLay said. "And he has said he's going to come to Congress when he decides what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. And I expect him to do that."

Debate is not new

The debate over what role Congress ought to play before the United States takes military action against another country is not new.

In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act over President Nixon's veto. The lawmakers acted in response to President Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.

The act requires the president to consult with Congress before deploying the military in "hostilities" and to notify Congress of troop commitments within 48 hours of deployment.

The president also must end military action within 60 days unless Congress declares war or grants an extension to the armed forces.

But the executive branch often has ignored the resolution and Congress often has not pressed the issue

-- White House Correspondents Kelly Wallace and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.




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