WASHINGTON – Congress is likely to give President Bush carte blanche on Iraq, as lawmakers from both parties and chambers on Thursday welcomed the White House's draft resolution authorizing the executive to "use all means" against Saddam Hussein.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said both the House and Senate might vote on the resolution as early as the first week of October, plenty of time before lawmakers go home to campaign for midterm elections.
Lott said lawmakers would review the president's proposal over the weekend, but "I'm perfectly happy with the language."
The White House's erstwhile nemesis, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., agreed with Lott that "there is absolutely no difference of opinion with regard to the threat that Saddam Hussein poses and the need to address that threat in a multitude of ways."
Daschle added that Democrats wanted some changes in the wording of the proposal, but were confident a broad consensus could be reached.
President Bush several months ago, after a review by White House lawyers and constitutional experts, declared that Congressional approval of Presidential military action was unnecessary.
But a show of support from Capitol Hill would be a boost to the administration as it presses for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force and tries to put together an international coalition to force Iraq to disarm.
On Friday Bush was meeting at the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, part of a full-court campaign to win Russian acquiescence to the anti-Iraq campaign.
Russia and France, which hold veto power as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have voiced strong reservations to a new resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Sergei Ivanov revealed the gap with the U.S. position on Thursday when, meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, he said he believed U.N. weapons inspectors would succeed in settling the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, meanwhile, repeated to the United Nations that Iraq was ready to accept, without conditions, the return of inspectors, and that Iraq had no biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Bush belittled Iraqi assertions that it had nothing to hide, saying it was "the same old song and dance we've heard for 11 years." He challenged the Security Council anew to show some "backbone ... or the United States and some of our friends will do so."
The resolution the president presented to Congress would give him broad war-making authority similar to what Congress gave his father, George H.W. Bush, in 1991 before the start of the Gulf War.
As drafted, it would authorize him to use force unilaterally if he deemed necessary, without waiting for the United Nations to act.
It reads: "The president is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."
Democrats in particular took issue with the final phrase on restoring international peace and security, saying it was too broad. Sen. Joseph Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was sure the president was "not asking for unilateral authority to act against Syria or Lebanon."
Democrats also stressed that the resolution should focus on getting the United Nations to take a tough stand on disarming Iraq. To talk about unilateral action "is a little premature now," Biden, D-Del., said.
"I'm inclined to vote for a resolution that will authorize the necessary response," Daschle said, but "it hasn't been written yet, so we will continue to work on it."
"It looks pretty straightforward to me," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "It will pass overwhelmingly."
The Bush proposal also made clear that the president is intent on bringing about the downfall of Saddam, pointing out that Congress in 1998, under President Clinton, had approved a policy "to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
It states that the Iraqi government "remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations" by possessing chemical and biological weapons capability, seeking nuclear weapons, supporting terrorists and repressing its own people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.