WASHINGTON – After resistance from some representatives, the House passed a resolution early Friday morning offering support to President Bush and the U.S. armed forces serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Some Democrats had argued that the resolution's language would create the appearance that they favored Bush's handling of Iraq. In the end, however, the House overwhelmingly approved the resolution 392-11, with 21 voting present.
Senate lawmakers on Thursday had set aside their own partisan bickering to unanimously pass a resolution expressing their support for the U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and praise for Bush's leadership.
The 99-0 vote excluded Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, who was home as a family member faced major surgery.
The language of the resolution voted on says Congress "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the president, as commander-in-chief, in the conflict against Iraq; commends, and expresses the gratitude of the nation to all members of the United States Armed Forces" and praises family members of soldiers who must cope with their absence.
The bill also expresses condolences to families of those who lost their lives in battle against Iraq and remembers those who died in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the 1991 mission to push Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Finally, the bill recognizes British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his steadfast support of efforts to disarm Iraq.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers negotiated over the language of the resolution — and whether it should include an endorsement of the president or merely express backing for military forces serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Several lawmakers said that weren't very pleased with the president's diplomatic efforts, but that they would support him during this time anyway.
"I have strong reservations that the new doctrine of preemption does not meet the test of international law. I have strong reservations about the assertion that the Congress has 'fully authorized' this war against Iraq. I do not believe that Congress can cede its constitutional power to declare war to the president," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. "But I have no question about the ability of our military to deliver a crushing blow to whatever army might stand in their way."
Earlier on Thursday, the Senate and House minority leaders said in unequivocal terms that despite policy differences over failed diplomatic efforts and military action in Iraq, Democrats are united in their support for both President Bush and U.S. troops.
"We may have had differences of opinion about what brought us to this point, but the president is the commander-in-chief and today, we unite behind him as well," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
"Dictators ... often mistake disagreement for disunity. ... There is continued debate but there is no disunity," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "There should be no mistake today, we are in support of our men and women who put themselves in harm's way."
But clearly some Democrats would never be willing to praise Bush. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., for instance, took to the House floor Thursday to bash Bush for leading the nation into war, making a touchy reference that forced the chair to chastise him when he said it's not right to praise a drunk for driving home without an accident.
Urging members to oppose the Republican-sponsored spending blueprint, Stark also implored his colleagues to vote against the "anti-veteran, anti-child, anti-Christian, Bush-league" budget.
Some House Democrats had also debated among themselves whether to caucus and decide on a mass defection, with all not voting as a means to show opposition to the war.
In October, a resolution authorizing war passed the House 296-133 and the Senate 77-23. Many Democrats withheld reservations to support the bill, fearing a backlash at the polls in November.
Republican and Democratic leaders were informed of the beginning of hostilities around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The White House had tried to improve its relations with lawmakers by keeping key leaders in the mix as it moved closer to war.
Daschle said Rice phoned him with enough details to give him a "sufficient understanding" of what was happening in Iraq. Pelosi said she was informed that the move was sold as "an action that would save lives."
Prior to the vote, on the Senate floor Thursday, Frist said that though a resolution was to be passed, he wanted to continue debating the budget and other pressing issues.
But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., suggested that the Senate move off the budget to talk about war, saying the extraordinary circumstances made it inappropriate for the Senate to continue with "business as usual."
Asked if members would be serving their constituents better if they took a week off to be at home in their districts, as Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., suggested Wednesday, Daschle said while Dodd's point is well taken, "I also recognize the need for the Senate to continue its work."
Daschle, however, disagreed with Frist that the budget needs to be done right away.
"I do think many members would like to express themselves [about the war with Iraq] ... I don't know of anything more important than that. ... But to the extent that that has been exhausted, I have no objection to moving back to the budget," Daschle said.
On Thursday, House and Senate Republican leaders were continuing to tally votes to see if they had the support to pass a $2.2 trillion budget that includes $726 billion of the president's $1.57 trillion, 10-year tax cut. Moderates want to slice that tax-cutting package in half and put the money toward reducing the expected $300 billion deficit next fiscal year.