WASHINGTON – President Bush hosted congressional lawmakers Wednesday in a Rose Garden press conference announcing agreement on draft language for a resolution on Iraq that House Democrats agreed to early in the day.
The language authorizes the president to order military force against Iraq if necessary. House and Senate Republicans were already on board with the language. The press conference was also an attempt to put pressure on holdout Senate Democrats to agree to the resolution.
"The text of our bipartisan resolution is clear and it is strong. The statement of support from the Congress will show to friend and enemy alike the resolve of the United States. In Baghdad, the regime will know that full compliance with all U.N. security demands is the only choice, and the time remaining for that choice is limited," Bush said, flanked by House Democrats and Republicans from both chambers.
"On its present course, the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency," Bush added.
The language agreed to by House Democrats gives the president the authority to use the military "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."
Lawmakers appearing with the president said that they were backing the president because they do not want to take the chance of seeing another World Trade Center collapse or Pentagon attack like those which terrorists wrought on the United States last Sept. 11.
Saddam is suspected of having weapons of mass destruction that he may be willing to share with terror groups who are not bound by international covenants.
"We don't want that type of tragedy to happen again and we will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., adding that the legislation does not tie the president's hands and allows him to act unilaterally if the United Nations fails to act.
As part of the deal, Bush bent to Democratic wishes and pledged to certify to Congress -- before any military strike, if feasible, or within 48 hours of a U.S. attack -- that diplomatic and other peaceful means alone are inadequate to protect Americans from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
The resolution also requires Bush to report to Congress every 60 days on "matters relevant" to the confrontation with Iraq. It also reaffirms the policy embedded in U.S. law that Saddam should be overthrown.
The president has already earned the support of some Senate Democrats. On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., introduced a bill co-sponsored by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., that basically copies House language for the resolution.
"This resolution is our attempt to support our president as commander-in-chief in seeking international backing for action against Saddam. It is also a way to strengthen the president's hand as commander-in-chief if Saddam doesn't comply and the United Nations doesn't take action to force Saddam [to follow] its orders," Lieberman said on the Senate floor.
He later appeared at the White House event, as did House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D- Mo., who said that he worked to reflect the views of a large bipartisan segment of Congress.
"My underlying goal in this process has been to ensure that Iraq is disarmed and to lessen the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction can't be passed to terrorists," Gephardt said. "The first responsibility of our government is to protect the security of our nation and our citizens."
Warner, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that he expected a wide margin of support in both chambers for the resolution.
"Mr. President, we delivered for your father. We will deliver for you," he said, adding that the margin would be larger than the 52-47 vote that gave then President George H.W. Bush authority to launch the Persian Gulf War.
"Congress will close its ranks so that the nation can speak with one voice," Warner added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., said Wednesday that the Senate is close to agreement on the president's preference.
"I'm a realist," Biden said in regard to Senate members' fast-growing support for the resolution agreed to in the Senate.
He and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., had introduced alternative language that leans more on the U.N. Security Council's diplomacy and reserves the right for the United States to act unilaterally if the Security Council fails to approve a new resolution. But Biden conceded the support for it wasn't there.
After emerging from a morning meeting with the president, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., wavered on the language which casts an ultimatum for Saddam to comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm or face retaliation.
"We'll have discussions in the coming hours to look for a procedural way to address our differences or come to an agreement on the resolution," he said.
"At the end of the day we're going to have a broad level of support on both sides of the aisle for a resolution that indicates our support for the United Nations effort and our support for the administration's effort in dealing with Iraq," he added.
On Tuesday, Bush argued that a bipartisan Senate proposal would tie his hands by allowing him to use force only to remove Saddam and his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and only after all diplomatic measures had been exhausted.
The language, reached following a night of staff negotiations, says, in effect, that the United States will deal with Saddam "diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must," as Gephardt said Wednesday.
"Iraq is a problem. It presents a problem after 9/11 that it did not before and we should deal with it diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must. And I think this resolution does that," Gephardt said.
After their breakfast meeting at the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., brushed aside Daschle's concerns about the resolution as a matter of semantics.
"With language, as long as you have staff and lawyers involved, it's possible it will never end. The bottom line is the resolved clause. It gives the president of the United States all necessary and appropriate authority, including the use of force to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Now, there are a lot of other issues that are addressed in the 'whereas' clauses, but that is going to be the bottom line," Lott said.
As the lawmakers met with the president, a dozen women crowded around the White House's northwest gate in protest.
"No war in Iraq," read a banner hanging on the executive mansion's wrought-iron gate.
One climbed atop the gate and was arrested. She made a choice of getting back down outside the fence instead of inside, saving her from a felony charge.
There was also progress on the U.N. front on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said his country is ready to consider further U.N. resolutions if arms inspectors need them to do their jobs more effectively. The Russians had been saying no new resolutions are needed.
The Russians and the French are still a long way from the United States and Britain on what kind of resolution the Security Council should pass. The French want a two-stage process, trying the inspections again before voting on a resolution authorizing war. They say a single resolution would be giving the United States and Britain a blank check to attack Iraq.
Those four countries plus China make up the veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council, and any one's objection could stifle movement in the Council. China is said to have agreed to abstain from a vote.
On Tuesday, Bush challenged the Security Council to "show its backbone" by passing a tough resolution.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.