Bush, House Leaders Reach Accord on Iraq Resolution

W By Karen DeYoung

The Washington Post

wASHINGTON – President Bush gained strong congressional support Wednesday for a bipartisan resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, and warned Baghdad that it is running out of time to bend to American will.

Flanked by dozens of lawmakers in the Rose Garden, the president announced an agreement with House leaders on a new resolution text that addressed some of the concerns raised about an earlier version. Although the Senate remained divided on the measure, opponents of granting Bush the broad authority he seeks conceded they were likely fighting a losing battle.

The new text, which House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., agreed to Tuesday night after extensive negotiations, grants Bush the authority he seeks to make war if Iraq fails to comply with United Nations disarmament mandates and other demands. It mentions support of efforts to gain U.N. Security Council backing, but it does not require U.N. approval for unilateral action.

The proposed resolution instructs Bush to inform Congress–either immediately before or within 48 hours after launching an attack–that U.N. efforts had failed to address the Iraqi threat. It limits the authorization specifically to combatting Iraq, dropping original language that would have given Bush approval to “restore international peace and security” throughout the Mideast region. It also ties the campaign against Iraq more closely to the overall U.S. war against international terrorism.

Congressional support for the resolution–which could come in House and Senate votes next week–“will show to friend and enemy alike the resolve of the United States,” Bush said, and demonstrate to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that he must comply with U.N. demands. “Time remaining for that choice is limited,” Bush said. “The use of force may become unavoidable.”

The Rose Garden announcement, in which senior members of both parties and chambers praised Bush’s leadership, was the latest in a series of orchestrated events designed to produce a sense of unstoppable momentum.

Gephardt, standing shoulder to shoulder with Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he had “worked to draft a resolution that reflects the views of a large bipartisan segment of Congress” and incorporating “a number of important improvements” reflecting Democratic views. “We have to do what is right for the security of our nation and the safety of all Americans,” Gephardt said.

An apparent minority of lawmakers, primarily Democratics but including a smattering of Republicans, continued to oppose the resolution. “Neither the facts nor the effect of proposed war resolutions have changed,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. He said the president “wants unbridled discretion to launch a massive ground invasion without evidence of an imminent threat to American families.”

Conspicuous by his absence at the ceremony was Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who was alone among top leaders in opposing the new plan. Democratic schisms were painfully apparent throughout the day, beginning when the four congressional leaders left the White House after an early breakfast with Bush. While Gephardt provided the first word to waiting reporters that agreement had been reached with the House, Daschle said that a number of senators still differed with the revised White House proposal.

As Daschle canceled a morning press conference, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who also opposes the measure, called off a meeting of his Foreign Relations Committee planned to discuss an alternative resolution. By midday, the White House had released the new text and Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., had gone to the Senate floor to introduce it and voice their support. Within an hour, Lieberman and Bayh were standing in the Rose Garden with Bush.

Daschle, Biden and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking minority member on the Foreign Relations Committee, continued to hold out for language limiting the scope of presidential authorization. Both the original and the new White House texts go far beyond Iraq’s defiance of U.N. demands to dismantle chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and submit to rigorous U.N. inspections. Both texts list a series of other Iraqi violations unrelated to weapons of mass destruction, including human rights abuses, failing to account for Persian Gulf War prisoners and circumvention of economic sanctions, and make no distinction among them as triggers for U.S. action.

The new resolution authorizes Bush “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.”

Biden said Wednesday that the alternative he has proposed with Lugar is “in the better interest of the United States.” Congressional aides said parts of the Biden-Lugar alternative, which is also supported by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., may be introduced as an amendment to the White House proposal after Senate debate begins Wednesday. They said other senators opposed to the proposal, including Carl Levin, D-Mich., may introduce other amendments.

Daschle said that “the final resolution should include greater emphasis on eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a stronger statement that operations against Iraq will not undermine the ongoing international effort against al-Qaida, and a clearer assessment of the administration’s plans for the political and economic reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq.”

The new resolution requires Bush to report to Congress every 60 days on “relevant” matters, including the exercise of military authority and “the status of planning for efforts that are expected to be required after such actions are completed.”

Although neither the proposed congressional resolution, nor the resolution the administration is circulating among U.N. Security Council members, speaks directly of “regime change” in Iraq, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer made clear Wednesday that disarmament and the elimination of Saddam are equal goals of U.S. military intervention. Fleischer said he couldn’t predict which would come first once an attack started. But, he said, “I think that if anybody is thinking or expecting that in the event that the United States uses military force, one result might be that Saddam Hussein remains the leader of Iraq, that’s a rather unrealistic notion.”