Bush gains more support for war resolution

Thursday, October 10, 2002

President Bush gained important new Democratic support for his war resolution Wednesday, bolstering his expected margin of victory in Congress for broad authority to use force against Iraq. But the administration was having less success on the international front.

A 25-minute phone call between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac failed to produce a breakthrough over wording of a new U.N. Security Council resolution to disarm Saddam Hussein. "This is intricate diplomacy and we are continuing our consultations," said White House spokesman Sean McCormack. He cited a "mutual desire" to find common ground.

Both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-ruled Senate forged ahead with debate on a resolution giving Bush authority to use U.S. force against Iraq -- with or without U.N. participation.

The White House cited a new CIA assessment -- suggesting Saddam might launch terrorist attacks if he concluded a U.S. military attack was inevitable -- as further justification for strengthening the president's hand. Opponents used the same document to argue against a U.S. first strike.

But more Democrats closed ranks with the president and leaders of both parties predicting congressional passage by wide margins by week's end. Both houses of Congress debated the measure late into the night. A final vote in the House was expected today.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, announced he would vote with the president, while cautioning Bush to use the power with discretion. "As president of the United States, you are the leader of the free world, not its ruler," Reid said.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had favored a more restrictive version, indicated he, too, would support Bush, saying it would "give the president the kind of momentum he needs" to prevail in the Security Council. "If Saddam Hussein is around five years from now, we are in deep trouble as a country," Biden said.

Also voicing their support were Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass. Dodd said he hoped the show of unity "will reduce the likelihood that force will be necessary." Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had been in the go-slow camp, said Saddam's arsenal posed "a real and grave threat" to the United States and its allies.

Senate signals

In what may have been a sign of votes to come, the Senate turned back, 88-10, an amendment by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., to expand Bush's authority for pre-emptive military action to include five terror organizations.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said focusing solely on Iraq could distract from the war on terrorism and "increase the risk at home." But administration allies said it would complicate matters.

All 10 votes for Graham's proposal came from Democrats, while 39 Democrats joined Republicans in voting to block it.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters the war resolution has support from possibly all of the Senate's 49 Republicans and was gaining substantial Democratic backing.

A Senate vote this morning to stifle delaying tactics "will pass overwhelmingly," Lott predicted.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said despite continuing divisions among Democrats, "my determination is to finish debate before the end of this week." Daschle has not said whether he will vote for the resolution.

Senate Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., a foe, pressed his effort to block or delay the final vote. "This is a question that involves peace and war, a question that involves great sacrifice to this country," Byrd said. Still, he all but conceded defeat.

"The wheels have been greased," said Byrd.

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