Published September 24, 2002
WASHINGTON – Democrats have two seats at the table with White House negotiators settling on the appropriate war language in a resolution on Iraq, but discontent is still brewing among House Democrats.
Lawmakers are lining up to express their misgivings about giving the president too much authority in the resolution designed to eliminate the threats posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Many are bothered by the idea of unilateral action if the United Nations fails to produce new resolutions requiring Iraq to abandon weapons of mass destruction and give the United States power to "restore international peace and security in the region."
"A lot of us are very worried about it and are trying to put something together," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. He complained that Republican leaders are "rushing it so hard that we can't get organized."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said she still wants some evidence that Saddam is the threat President Bush says he is.
"What is the justification for our going in? What is the mission? How do we intend on accomplishing it, and therefore why does the president need a resolution of that broad scope when the intelligence does not support the threat that is being described?" asked Pelosi, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee.
On Monday, Bush said Saddam must be dealt with because he is a "man who would use weapons of mass destruction at the drop of a hat, a man who would be willing to team up with terrorist organizations with weapons of mass destruction to threaten America and our allies."
Yet allies are still finding it difficult to get behind a U.N. resolution since Saddam agreed last week to allow weapons inspectors back into the country for the first time in four years, the details still have to be worked out, and the administration has called Saddam's offer a stalling tactic that only enables him to shift around some of his weapons facilities.
Democrats are also looking for ways to make a U.S. mission in Iraq more palatable. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, complained House Democrats lacked a strategy on what they wanted the resolution to say and how to approach the whole issue. Rangel is not alone.
Rep Ike Skelton's office confirmed that he and Pelosi are working on a "dream resolution" that would seek to deal with questions that Skelton, D-Mo., mentioned in a letter to Bush this month. Skelton said that before Congress can authorize military action, it must get answers on the transition of power to a stable post-Saddam regime, how to deal with Iraq without undermining international support for the broader war on terror and the plan for a successful military operation.
"Our objective is really not a substitute," said Spratt. "Our goal is a bipartisan resolution that most members can vote for."
But those arguments put Democratic lieutenants at odds with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who supports an Iraq campaign.
Numerous Democratic sources say Gephardt is looking out for moderate Democrats who want to support the president and the moderate Democratic challengers trying to win seats from Republicans in swing districts, seats Gephardt needs won if he has any hopes of becoming speaker of the House.
The chiefs of staff of the four congressional leaders -- Senate majority and minority leaders, House speaker and House minority leader -- are meeting with the bullish White House negotiators this week to settle on the exact wording of the resolution.
When it comes down to brass tacks, Democratic lawmakers want a quick and favorable vote to get the issue out of the way. Even Pelosi said that congressional Democrats will offer no alternative language, and the existing language can be tweaked to put a finer point on the president's powers.
The White House is likely to agree to some minor changes, including adding some war powers language, reducing the scope of authorization to go into Iraq and adding specific language about Congress' legal role in authorizing force.
With those changes, White House and GOP sources say they expect to get more than 300 votes in the House, and as many as 75 votes in the Senate.
Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.