Published August 27, 2002
CRAWFORD, Texas – Aides say President Bush is spending his last week of vacation trying to figure out how to get Congress to pass a resolution supporting military action in Iraq.
Even though the president has not decided a war is necessary, and has promised to consult Congress before he takes action, aides said the president does not believe that congressional authorization is needed.
"The White House lawyers have given their opinion about the constitutional prerogatives that the president enjoys when it is a matter of exercising military authority," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.
"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. The president, if this were ever to come to this point, would consider a variety of legal, policy, historical factors in making up his mind about this, if it again becomes a relevant matter," Fleischer said.
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales told Bush earlier this month that according to the Constitution, the president's role as commander-in-chief is all the authority he needs. If that weren't enough, Gonzales also pointed out that the 1991 congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait is still in effect because Iraq has never proven to the world that it has not developed chemical or biological weapons.
Furthermore, Bush was told he could act against Iraq based on the Sept. 14 congressional resolution approving military action against terrorism.
Lawmakers immediately jumped on the news. Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said that Bush ought to be "mindful of the important distinction between what the president can do, and what he ought to do."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that even though he feels the president does not need a resolution, it would be a good idea to get one anyway since Saddam Hussein will be high on the agenda when Congress returns from its summer vacation.
"I think it's important to have the debate in Congress. I think we ought to have it this fall before we adjourn for the year. And that way both sides, I think, will have aired the matter thoroughly. And if the president decides to act after Congress adjourns, but before we come in next year, I think there will be no arguments about authority."
The intense focus on Saddam comes as some members of the first Bush administration, including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, urge a go-slow approach. Baker suggests that Bush get a U.N. Security Council resolution before he takes action.
White House aides say that Bush will consider a variety of legal, policy and historical issues if he decides on military action.
They did not indicate whether the president feels any bind in his authority from the 1973 War Powers Act that Congress passed over then-President Richard Nixon's veto. It calls for Congress to authorize any military action that lasts longer than 90 days.
Vice President Cheney has said it's probably unconstitutional. Like his predecessors, Bush indicated last week that he would consult with Congress consistent with the act but not ask for authorization.
"We will continue to talk with the people concerned about peace and how to secure the peace, and those are needed consultations. Not only will we consult with friends and allies, we'll consult with members of Congress."
The president will meet with Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States on Tuesday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bush has not gotten much international support for military action against Iraq with the strongest opposition coming from Arab leaders, who warn that war against Iraq, especially without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute first, would be destabilizing.
Fox News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.