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TIMES SURVEY : Congress Split on Giving Bush Its Vote for War

January 11, 1991|PAUL HOUSTON and DWIGHT MORRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — With Congress approaching historic votes on the use of force in the Persian Gulf, a Times survey indicated Thursday that both the Senate and House are closely divided over whether to authorize President Bush to wage war or, instead, to give economic sanctions more time to work.

Among the 364 lawmakers willing to state positions in advance of their votes, Republicans overwhelmingly supported Bush's request for authority to attack Iraq, while Democrats were deeply split over their leaders' plea to endorse continued reliance on sanctions to end the occupation of Kuwait.

Sixteen Republican senators and 86 GOP House members--including at least four of the five-member Orange County delegation--said they would vote for a resolution authorizing the President to take any military action in the Persian Gulf that he deems necessary. Only three Republicans in each house were opposed.

Democrats were split sharply on the proposal, opposing it 22 to six in the Senate and 114 to 43 in the House, where they command substantial majorities.

The totals suggested that the resolution sought by Bush might carry the House narrowly but that the outcome was too close to call in the Senate. Clouding the picture, some lawmakers said they had not made up their minds, and 171 others did not respond to the survey.

A similar pattern was evident on an alternative proposal from Democratic congressional leaders urging the President to give sanctions more time to work. Republicans in both houses massively opposed it, 95 to 4, while Democrats were split in favor, 108 to 71.

"Although my district is fairly redneck and very patriotic, it is opposed to going to war at this time," said a prominent liberal Democrat, Rep. Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio. But in a reflection of deep Democratic differences, many conservative Southerners and liberal backers of Israel expressed support for a war resolution.

"If we leave Iraq unencumbered, they'll take over the world's oil by military force or intimidation," Rep. Butler Derrick (D-S.C.) said in responding to the survey, the most detailed yet on Congress's views of the Persian Gulf crisis.

Many lawmakers contacted in the survey were skittish about taking a stand that could be misinterpreted by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or by voters back home; top leaders generally declined to respond or requested anonymity.

Indeed, the usually placid Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) exploded in the middle of a question about whether the United States "should continue to enforce economic sanctions, no matter how long it takes. . . ."

"Why don't you just burn those questions--erase all my answers!" he demanded.

Four Orange County congressional delegates--Reps. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach), who represents northwest Orange County--agreed to make their survey answers public. But Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), who represents southern Orange County, asked that his responses remain confidential.

While Cox, Dannemeyer, Dornan and Rohrabacher said they would vote for a resolution giving the President a free hand in using military force in the gulf, they disagreed on the price the nation should pay for liberating Kuwait.

Dornan said he agreed strongly with President Bush's assertion that "no price is too heavy to pay" to repel "the aggression of Saddam Hussein against Kuwait," while Cox agreed to a lesser degree. Dannemeyer and Rohrabacher, however, said they disagreed somewhat with the statement.

Cox told a Times pollster that the United States must demonstrate to Iraq that America is "extraordinarily serious" about its intention to force Iraq from Kuwait.

However, only Dornan said he would vote for an official declaration of war against Iraq on Jan. 16, if Hussein indicates that he has no intention of withdrawing his occupying troops. Dannemeyer and Rohrabacher said they did not know how they would vote on the issue, while Cox said he would oppose a war declaration.

A sizable majority of lawmakers approved of Bush's overall handling of the gulf situation. On the other hand, a smaller majority believed that the President has done only a fair to poor job of explaining why he sent American troops to the region.

"I think the President's goals are in order, and I think he has done an excellent job of rallying the international community," said Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), his party's chief deputy whip in the House. "But I don't think he has done a good job with respect to moving from a defensive to an offensive military posture. I would have given more time for diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions to work before I would have done that."

Among Republicans, 112 said they strongly or somewhat strongly approve of the President's management of the crisis, while only one senator said he disapproves. Among Democrats, 86 approve and 73 disapprove of Bush's overall performance.

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