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Gephardt defends decision on resolution

'This is life and death'

From Ted Barrett (CNN Washington Bureau)

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt:
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt: "We're not playing games here."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt Thursday defended his decision to back a compromise congressional resolution authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq and denied accusations he was motivated by politics.

"I get frustrated when everyone on all of this is trying to infuse political motives into these decision," Gephardt, D-Missouri, said at a news conference. "I mean, lets get serious. We're not playing games here. This is life and death."

Some Democrats were upset the House minority leader stood alongside President Bush during Wednesday's announcement of the agreement. His hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, accused him of undercutting fellow Democrats in the Senate in order to avoid taking an unpopular stand on Iraq.

But Gephardt said any considerations he has of running for president or becoming House speaker if Democrats win back control of the chamber in November were "irrelevant."

"I believe that dragging it into politics or trying to decide it on political rationale is immoral," he said.

Gephardt opposed committing U.S. troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but said his decision then was wrong.

"I didn't know everything I now know," he said. "I didn't see what Saddam Hussein did in the last 11 years. So now I come to a different conclusion. It's a different situation. It's a totally different set of facts." he said.

He downplayed an apparent rift with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, who did not agree with the White House on the Iraq resolution. Gephardt predicted the two would end up in the same place once the Senate finished debating the matter.

"I have enormous friendship and respect with Tom Daschle. Always have had and always will have. And I have nothing but admiration and respect for what he is trying to do with this in the Senate. As he said yesterday, it doesn't matter where you start, what matters is where you wind up. We have different bodies and we have different ways of dealing with it," Gephardt said.

Daschle said Thursday he "can fully understand" Gephardt's decision.

"There are times when we have occasions when we have to make our individual judgments, and that's what he did and I have no disagreement with that," Daschle said. "He made his best judgment, and I'm making mine."

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