Key Democrats join Bush on Iraq measure

By SHARON OTTERMAN   |   Oct. 9, 2002 at 7:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Congress moved closer on Wednesday to granting President George W. Bush the authority to use military force against Iraq, as a number of key Democratic senators said they would stand behind him despite reservations that the current resolution will give him too much power.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated Vietnam war hero and frequent critic of Bush's foreign policy, said that he was voting for the president's resolution based on the president's word that approving it would not mean war was imminent.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Kerry said he trusted that the president would continue to work in good faith with the United Nations and would not go to war for any other reason than to eliminate Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

He said he believed the president, based on his speech Monday, would refrain from using the broader authority to wage war unilaterally that the resolution grants.

"In giving the president this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days -- to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out 'tough, immediate' inspections requirements and to 'act with our allies at our side' if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.

"If he fails to do so, I will be the first to speak out," Kerry said.

The discomfort expressed by Kerry with the breadth of the Iraq resolution was echoed by other key lawmakers during the full day of Senate debate on Wednesday. But stating they believed the resolution was bound to pass, the reticent lawmakers said that they felt that expressing national unity was more important than reopening a lengthy debate that might prevent a final agreement.

Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., both said they would vote in favor of the resolution Wednesday, despite their earlier support of a more restrictive resolution written by the leaders of the Senate International Affairs Committee.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also said he would vote yes despite his concern that the president had failed to make a compelling case for war.

"As the Congress votes on this resolution, we must understand that we have not put Iraq behind us. This is just the beginning. The risks should not be understated, miscast or misunderstood. Ours is a path of both peril and opportunity, with many detours and no shortcuts," Hagel said.

Senate leaders of both parties expressed confidence that the resolution would pass with a clear majority when it comes up for a final vote. That was expected late Thursday night, although delaying tactics by some senators could push off a vote until sometime next week, the leaders said.

Debate in the House also continued Wednesday, with a final vote expected Thursday afternoon. House leaders continued to express confidence that the measure would pass.

One of the key voices in the Senate against the bill was Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who pleaded with senators not to rush the debate. Byrd, an eight-term senator and a traditional voice of caution, said he believes the upcoming election was causing lawmakers to not think through the serious consequences of war.

"I'm concerned about the way this Senate is being stampeded. I'm asking that in this unique situation, involving so much of the country's blood and treasure, that we put off this fateful decision," Byrd said.

Byrd stressed that America was not ready for biological or chemical weapons attacks that could be brought on by the use of military force against Iraq.

Along with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., another opponent of the resolution, he quoted the recent comments of CIA Director George Tenet, who warned that Saddam will be much more likely to use weapons of mass destruction if hostilities began.

Sen. Bob Graham, D.-Fla., the head of the Select Intelligence Committee, warned that lawmakers would be responsible for the deaths of Americans if they refused to take the threat of retribution seriously.

"By taking these actions, we are going to be increasing the threat level in the United States. I think we all know we are going to be increasing the threat level. If you reject that, frankly, my friends, the blood is going to be on your hands," he said.

Graham asked senators to approve an amendment to the president's resolution that would give the president additional authority to use military force against five groups deemed to be terrorist groups by the United States: the Abu Nidal Organization, Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Front.

The amendment was voted down by the senators 88-11 on Wednesday afternoon. Senators said they wanted to pass a resolution without major changes, to make the final bill easier.

Opposition to the resolution was also expressed by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. Both men said they did not believe the president had made a case that Iraq posed a clear, imminent danger to the United States.

"The administration is asking Congress to make a decision to go to war based on conflicting statements, angry assertions and assumptions based on speculation," Leahy said on the Senate floor.

"The administration has also been vague, evasive and contradictory about its plans."

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