WASHINGTON – The House passed a resolution Thursday that allows President Bush to use force if necessary against Iraq.
The final vote tally of 296-133 saw 81 Democrats voting with Republicans to give the president the maneuvering room he said he needs to effectively confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"It is only when the Iraqi dictator is certain of our willingness to wage war if necessary that peace becomes possible," Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said prior to the vote.
A similar vote was expected in the Senate within days.
"The House debate was conducted in the best traditions of the United States Congress. It was spirited, civil and it was informed. This is a debate and a decision that all Americans can be proud of," Bush said shortly after the House vote. "The United States is committed to helping make the world more peaceful and just. We are committed to freedom for all."
Earlier Thursday, just moments before a Senate test vote, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle threw his support behind the identical resolution.
"I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice," Daschle declared.
Daschle was the last of the four congressional leaders to sign on to the resolution, which is expected to pass with wide margins in the Senate as well.
The 75-25 Senate vote to end debate on the measure means that the Senate is choking off opposition and closing in on approval of the resolution.
After that vote, the White House expressed its appreciation for Daschle's support and the message it conveys abroad.
"The president hopes this will send a strong message to the world, and to Iraq, that if Iraq does not obey the U.N. resolutions, that the United States is prepared to enforce the peace," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., joined House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Sen. Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., last week in agreeing to a resolution that calls for the president to seek support from the United Nations.
The resolution also allows Bush to take unilateral action to prevent Saddam Hussein from continuing to build weapons of mass destruction.
Daschle said he agreed to vote for the resolution because of changes in the president's approach to getting support from allies and the Congress.
He commended the president for "recognizing that under our Constitution, it is the Congress that authorizes the use of force, and for requesting a resolution providing such authority."
Daschle said that four elements of the resolution won him over: It focuses on a threat specifically posed by Iraq; it seeks continued cooperation with the U.N. Security Council to secure Iraqi compliance; it forces the president to notify Congress that other means have failed within 48 hours of taking military action; and it orders the president to report to Congress every 60 days on the progress of disarmament.
"For me, the deciding factor is my belief that a united Congress will help the president unite the world. And by uniting the world, we can increase the world's chances of succeeding in this effort," Daschle said.
Daschle was one of the few Democratic holdouts left in the Senate. Majority Whip Harry Reid of Nevada, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden of Delaware, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut all recently gave their stamps of approval.
Biden warned, however, that "if Saddam Hussein is around five years from now, we are in deep trouble as a country."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., offered an alternative that would require the president to act in conjunction with the United Nations but to seek support for unilateral action. That substitute measure failed 24-75.
On Wednesday, an amendment by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., to expand Bush's authority for pre-emptive military action to include designated five terror organizations went down 88-10. Two other resolutions offered by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., also failed on Thursday.
Byrd, however, continues to hold out against giving the president any authority.
On Thursday, the 84-year-old president pro tempore of the Senate said Congress would be acting recklessly if it agreed to give the president a "blank check" to take action.
"I'm sorry to see this day," Byrd said. "This is my 50th year in Congress and I never thought that I'd find a Senate which would lack the backbone to stand up against this stampede, this rush to war."
In the House, debate went deep into the night both Tuesday and Wednesday, with nearly every member expressing his opinions about the gravity of their action.
"I know the heartache and pain of the families that are left behind," said a tearful Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., who was a pilot in the Vietnam War.
"It's time we go straight to the eye and dismantle the elements from which the storm of brutal, repressive tyranny and terrorism radiate," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "I can attest to the evilness of Saddam Hussein."
More than three-quarters of House Democrats voted for an alternative proposal similar to Sen. Levin's, sponsored by Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., that the president seek congressional approval for action against Iraq if cooperation with the United Nations did not yield adequate support. It failed by a 270-155 vote.
Spratt said that without a multilateral approach, "this will be the United States versus Iraq, and in some quarters the U.S. versus the Arab and the Muslim world."
On the diplomatic front, the president still had not convinced French President Jacques Chirac of the need for a U.N. Security Council resolution that allows for force if Saddam does not comply with disarmament and verification measures by U.N. weapons inspections.
Bush and Chirac spoke for 25 minutes by telephone Wednesday, and White House spokesman Sean McCormack said that the administration is "continuing our consultations."
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov relayed a stance similar to Chirac's, even though Secretary of State Colin Powell, interviewed on television Wednesday night, said world leaders were coming together on Iraq.
With the resolutions nearly finished, congressional Democrats can now turn to issues that they want to discuss before the Nov. 5 midterm elections. The hold-up was also threatening Daschle's status as majority leader.
Nonetheless, the more than 120 House Democrats who voted against the measure apparently feel no threat to their status.
The House was turning its attention on passing a continuing resolution to keep the government operating until Nov. 22. This would allow lawmakers to campaign and then return to finish up the 2003 fiscal year budget.
Fox News' Tony Snow and the Associated Press contributed to this report.