WASHINGTON – Lawmakers still face a partisan divide over how to confront the threat posed by Iraq, though the White House hopes Congress soon will pass a resolution authorizing military force to topple Saddam Hussein.
Republicans and Democrats appearing on the Sunday talk shows said they hoped a resolution would win overwhelming support, even as they sparred over the United Nations' role and the severity of the threat from the Iraqi president.
GOP lawmakers, lining up behind President Bush, said it is unlikely that Saddam will allow inspectors unfettered access to search for weapons of mass destruction.
``He is not going to allow them back in, because he has these weapons and materials and laboratories and he isn't about to give them up,'' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Democrats, including House members visiting Baghdad, urged the Bush administration to work closely with the United Nations and to let inspectors resume their work.
``You don't start out by putting the gun to their head and saying we're going to shoot you if you blink,'' said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., speaking from Iraq.
McDermott also suggested the president might be misleading the American people about the need for military action, something the White House swiftly denied.
Congress may consider the resolution this week, though negotiations on terms continue. Bush said Saturday that agreement was near and predicted that ``soon we will speak with one voice.''
Democrats say they will not give the president open-ended authority and are seeking to put more emphasis on a multilateral approach.
The Senate's top Republican, Trent Lott of Mississippi, said Sunday that he wants the a resolution that can attract as much support as possible.
``We're still working on language that can bring the largest number of Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, together,'' Lott, R-Miss., said on CBS's Face the Nation.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., agreed but said the key will be rooting the resolution in the United Nations as ``primary responder.''
By acting alone, Dodd said, the United States could lose the cooperation it needs in the larger war on terrorism.
Lawmakers also disagreed on the immediacy of the threat.
``There is no evidence that I have seen that indicates there is an imminent threat,'' Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on CNN's Late Edition. There is time to build international support for U.S. action, she said.
``What if you're wrong?'' asked Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. ``I'm not willing to wait until something happens to this country.''
Speaking from Baghdad, McDermott and fellow Democratic Rep. David Bonior of Michigan said Iraqi officials assured them that they will allow weapons inspectors full access.
``Let the U.N. inspectors do their job,'' Bonior said on ABC's This Week. He said that Iraqi officials assured him they would allow ``unrestricted, unfettered'' access, though they do want ``their sovereignty respected.''
``They don't want to be having knocked on the door during prayer and say, `Open up this building in five minutes,''' he said. ``They want to be treated with some dignity and respect.''
The Democrats' comments were quickly dismissed by the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
``They both sound somewhat like spokespersons for the Iraqi government,'' Nickles said.
Iraq has said it would allow weapons inspectors though said Saturday that they must return under terms of previous U.N. resolutions, meaning inspectors would not have access to sprawling presidential palaces.
McDermott also said on This Week that Bush might mislead Americans about the threat Iraq poses, comparing the situation to misleading statements by President Johnson about the Vietnam War.
``It would not surprise me if they came with some information that is not provable,'' he said. ``I think the president would mislead the American people.''
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded that Bush has made a ``very clear case'' regarding Iraq's actions.
``The American people know he hasn't misled anyone and the American people know he won't mislead anyone,'' he said.
With such divided views, Bush must make his case for military action, said Sen. John, Breaux, D-La.
``We don't want to get into a situation like Vietnam, for instance, where we had a house divided, the Congress was divided, the American people were divided,'' he said on Fox News Sunday.
``Anything the president can do to meet with the congressional leaders, to address a joint session of Congress, to bring about unanimity, I think would be very important and very positive.''