KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, members of the House International relations Committee began the formal process by which President Bush will be authorized to wage war against Iraq.
SPOKESMAN: The committee will come to order.
KWAME HOLMAN: It's expected that by this time tomorrow, the committee, chaired by Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, will have approved and sent to the full House the "use of military force" resolution, and will have done so overwhelmingly. Indiana's Dan Burton is a senior member of committee.
REP. DAN BURTON: Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons on his people in his own country, on the people in countries right next to him, and he will use anything at his disposal if we let him. It's my opinion we have to act and act quickly, and that's why I support this resolution.
KWAME HOLMAN: Like most resolutions, this one is written in typical archaic form, with the requisite number of "whereas"-- 23 in all-- establishing the case against Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The critical language, however, follows the "resolved by" clause. It states: "The President is authorized to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." That the President was able to reach agreement on the resolution language this morning with leaders of the Republican- controlled House did not come as a surprise. That Democratic leader Dick Gephardt also signed onto the language, did.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I have said for a long time that 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gephardt's acceptance of the broad resolution language appeared to catch Senate Democrats off guard. Majority Leader Tom Daschle abruptly canceled his morning press briefing. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden had been building support in the Senate for a narrowly drawn resolution. It authorizes the President to use force only to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I believe from my discussions with the Republicans who support this that they are up to 24, 25 Republican members who would much prefer to see this narrowed along the lines that we have suggested. I believe there are as many as a dozen who, prior to this sort of being potentially, you know, match point already occurred here, who were prepared to vote for this.
KWAME HOLMAN: But outside Senator Daschle's office late this morning, Biden admitted the momentum had shifted.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: The straight, honest answer is it's probably too late. We're probably at a point where, since Gephardt made the deal this morning, that we cannot act before the House acts. As it turns out, procedurally we're not going to get there. So I guess everybody is assuming what's going to happen is they are going to have a Gephardt/Hastert or a Hastert-Gephardt resolution popping over here with a lot of votes.
KWAME HOLMAN: The White House staged an event in the Rose Garden this afternoon so that the President could thank those members who have endorsed his call for broad authority to take action against Iraq. It gave House Democratic Leader Gephardt another opportunity to explain his support.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: Over the past several days, I have solicited views from all the members of my caucus, and have negotiated with the administration to secure a number of important improvements that reflect these views. These improvements include support for and prioritization of U.S. diplomatic efforts at the United Nations; limitations on the scope of the authorization; Presidential determinations to Congress before our armed forces may be used against Iraq. These include assurances by the President that he has exhausted diplomatic means to address this threat, and that any military action against Iraq will not undermine our ongoing efforts in the war against terrorism; regular consultations with and reporting to Congress on the administration's efforts to address this threat; and post- conflict contingencies in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: And although neither Senators Daschle nor Biden was there, Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman was.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I am convinced, as impressive as this group is here today, though there will be a serious debate ahead in both Houses of Congress, and amendments will certainly be offered in the Senate, as is the right and responsibility of those who disagree with this amendment, that in the end-- those who disagree with this resolution-- in the end, this resolution will pass in the Senate with a very large bipartisan majority, and that today is the best hope for a stronger America and for a life for the American people that is safer.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late today, Majority Leader Daschle released a statement saying the Iraq resolution now moving through the House "represents improvements over the initial proposal the President submitted," but he said he believes it should include: greater emphasis on eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, a stronger statement that the operations against Iraq will not undermine the international effort against al-Qaida, and clearer assessment of the administration's plan for the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq. Daschle, however, concludes stating he's certain the Senate will adopt a resolution that clearly provides the President the authority he needs. Almost lost in all of the action on the Iraq resolution today were the views of two House Democrats who have just returned from Iraq. Jim McDermott and David Bonior said missing from the resolution debate is a serious discussion about the war itself.
REP. DAIVD BONIOR: I am disheartened by the fact that people have not been addressing the question of what the implications for war will be in the broader context of American foreign policy, and at what risk we will be placing our embassy personnel in other countries; at what risk we will be placing the world community on the issue of preemption. We strike first, presuming there's a problem. What does that send... what kind of signal does that send to the people of South Asia-- to India, to Pakistan? I'm concerned about being able to fight on a variety of different fronts around the world. We don't need another war in the Middle East. We have one going already. The world is a very fragile place today, and going to war unilaterally is a very dangerous mission at this particular point.
KWAME HOLMAN: Both the House and Senate expect to be fully engaged in debate over the Iraq resolution next week, and every member of Congress will be given the opportunity to express his or her views on the possibility of war.