WASHINGTON – President Bush's request for authority to use U.S. force against Iraq advanced in Congress on Thursday, with a House committee voting its approval and Senate leaders predicting wide margins of bipartisan support.
"It's up to us today to send a message to the world," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. He predicted Congress would give Bush the authority he wants by next week and "set in motion the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein."
Reflecting the Senate's determination to move ahead, the chamber then voted 95-1 on a procedural motion that clears the way for votes next week. The lone dissenter was Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
The Bush administration was having less success winning over the U.N. Security Council for a new resolution to disarm Baghdad.
After veto-holding Russia suggested such a resolution was unnecessary, Bush showed clear frustration with the lack of headway.
He suggested he would build a coalition of world leaders willing to join the United States against Iraq -- even if the United Nations does not. Bush did not say who would sign on, though U.S. officials mention Britain, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Bahrain and Kuwait among others.
"The choice is up (to) the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill his word," Bush said. "And if neither of them acts, the United States in deliberate fashion will lead a coalition to take away the world's worst weapons from one of the world's worst leaders."
The House International Relations Committee turned back efforts to weaken the resolution embraced by Bush and House leaders and approved it, 31-11, sending it to the full House for debate next week. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the chairman, asked members "to support not the president but the cause that is embodied in this resolution."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., announced separate votes would be held next week on two alternatives that would put more limits on presidential authority.
"I think it's too early to give up on making the effort," he said. Daschle said the latest White House draft, negotiated in part by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., was an improvement over the administration's original proposal.
Daschle, like Lott, told Senate colleagues as debate began that he anticipated broad bipartisan support when a final vote is taken. "There is no difference of opinion with regard to our ultimate goal," Daschle said.
In New York, the full 15-member Security Council got a closed-door briefing from the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix. He was to meet with State Department officials Friday.
U.N. diplomats said Blix was continuing with his announced plan to send an advance team to Iraq; it is expected to arrive in Baghdad Oct. 19.
Council diplomats said Blix said progress was made but there were "loose ends" still unresolved, including access to eight presidential sites.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States does not want inspectors to return "under the current arrangements. ... We want the inspectors to go with the full support of the Security Council."
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that if inspection teams return after a four-year absence, "it's vital that ... they have the means and the ability and the will of the world to do their job."
Senators debated the war resolution throughout the day.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who opposes it, told colleagues, "A pre-emptive, go-it-alone military strategy toward Iraq is wrong. ... Only a broad coalition of nations, united to disarm Saddam while preserving our war on terror, is likely to succeed."
Byrd, a former majority leader, condemned supporters in both parties. He said Republicans were seeking political gain and Democrats wanted a fast vote "so they can fast change the subject to domestic matters" before next month's midterm elections.
The Senate will have three choices, Daschle said:
-- The main White House-backed resolution. It would give Bush broad authority to use force against Iraq to enforce "relevant" U.N. resolutions, with or without U.N. cooperation. As a concession, the White House agreed to inform Congress -- either right before an attack or within 48 hours afterward -- that U.N. efforts had failed. Bush also agreed to give Congress progress reports every 60 days.
-- An alternative by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a senior member and former chairman, that would emphasize the U.N. role and specify force could be used against Iraq only to disarm it.
-- A proposal by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would require the president to obtain U.N. approval before committing U.S. forces.
Neither the Levin measure nor the Biden-Lugar alternative was considered likely to gain enough votes to prevail, said officials in both parties.
In other developments Thursday:
-- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., said the CIA has not provided information on Iraq sought by his panel, impeding Congress' ability to assess the need for military action.
-- Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.S.-Russian business group he was optimistic that a new U.N. resolution could be arranged despite Russia's contention the current one will do.
-- Allied forces dropped thousands of leaflets over southern Iraq, warning Iraqi forces against firing at British and U.S. planes that patrol the no-fly zone. The leaflets note that Iraqi air defenses had been attacked for firing on allied warplanes and "you could be next."