WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- In a series of votes on Thursday and early Friday, Congress overwhelming approved a resolution that allows the president to take unilateral military action against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq without conditions except for Congress being informed almost immediately of any military action.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a resolution, 296-133. The Senate followed suit early Friday in a 77 to 23 vote.
The Senate had to wade through a series of procedural hurdles during the weeklong debate that were erected by Senate President Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who opposes taking unilateral action against a nation that has not struck at the United States first. The resolution would allow such action with few restrictions.
But after the Senate voted to formally end debate -- by mustering more than 60 votes -- it effectively precluded a Byrd filibuster and brought the measure to a final passage vote.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., who has strongly criticized the Bush administration for its handling of foreign policy, seemed to capture the sentiment of many other moderate Democrats: uncomfortable with giving Bush permission to pursue a unilateral war with few, if any, checks on his power, but hardly inclined to defend Saddam's regime. Or even argue against destroying it.
"I will vote for (this) because we should support compelling Iraq to make good on its obligations to the United Nations because while Iraq's illegal weapons of mass destruction programs do not pose an imminent threat to our national security, they will if left unfettered and because a strong vote in Congress increases the prospects for a tough new U.N. resolution on weapons inspections, which in turn decreases the prospect of war," he said shortly before the vote.
House opponents of the bill tried to stop its passage Thursday by asking that it be recommitted, or sent back to a committee for further deliberation, but that motion was rejected, 325-101. That vote and the presence of the bipartisan House leadership extolling the resolution's virtues made passage practically a forgone conclusion.
The House vote came just after a small demonstration against any military action against Iraq disrupted the debate. Two women were arrested by Capitol Hill police officers at the instruction of the acting speaker of the House, Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill.
The outgoing House Republican Conference chairman, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, followed the president's preferred tactic: lumping Iraq in with al Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
"Our nation and our military may very well need to right the wrongs being perpetrated from an evil dictatorship in Iraq," Watts said.
"Saddam Hussein poses a long-term threat that could jeopardize the freedoms and the way of life enjoyed by Americans ... a threat that grows more menacing over time."
But the GOP's enthusiasm for the use-of-force resolution was tempered by statements of top Democrats, including a top party leader, who described the vote in support of the resolution as a "difficult one."
"I hope -- as do the American people -- that the president will use this discretion wisely," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost of Texas. "Today's vote is a difficult one. Many House members have worn their country's uniform in time of war and have seen the horrors of battle firsthand."
House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, after admitting that he was mistaken in his opposition to the 1991 Gulf War, also threw his support behind the new Bush doctrine of preventive first strikes on American enemies.
"We must now do everything in our power to prevent further terrorist attacks and ensure that an attack with a weapon of mass destruction cannot happen," he said. "The consequences of such an attack are unimaginable."
"We spent 50 years in a Cold War and trillions of dollars deterring a weapon of mass destruction attack by another country. Now we must prevent such an attack by terrorists -- who, unlike our previous adversaries, are willing to die. In these new circumstances, deterrence may not work. With these new dangers, prevention must work," he added.
Even as the House passed its resolution, the Senate Thursday was moving closer to giving the president the authority to use force against Iraq, voting 75-25 to end debate and heading off a potential Byrd filibuster.
In a major victory for President George W. Bush, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also announced his support for the resolution. Daschle had been fairly closed-mouthed about his specific stance on the resolution until Thursday, previously sounding optimistic that a resolution could be reached and critical of Iraq -- but stopping far short of endorsing the plan.
"Because this resolution is improved, because I believe that Saddam Hussein represents a real threat, and because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment, I will vote to give the president the authority he needs," Daschle said.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Daschle detailed how the resolution had been changed to his liking and -- despite expressing support for the use-of-force resolution -- also warned the president about the dangers of using force.
"If the administration attempts to use the authority in this resolution without doing the work that is required before and after military action in Iraq, the situation there -- and elsewhere -- can indeed get worse," Daschle said.
"We could see more turmoil in the Persian Gulf, not less. Americans could find themselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, not less.
"This resolution represents a beginning, not an end. If we are going to make America and the world safer, much more work needs to be done before the force authorized in this document is used," he added.
The Senate technically had 30 hours of debate to complete before a final vote could be taken, but leaders in both parties worked to develop a deal to speed the vote along.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate rejected, on a 66-31 vote, an amendment to the resolution sponsored by Byrd that would have set a 12-month limit to any authorization. The president could extend this 12-month period by giving Congress 60 days' notice.
The House also defeated an amendment, 355-72, offered by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would have committed the United States to using weapons inspectors against Saddam's regime and would have prohibited the use of force unilaterally.
Lee -- one of the most liberal members of Congress -- had cast the lone vote against the use of force against al Qaida and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.