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Senators Seek the Right Words to Sway Democrats on Iraq

Congress: White House unlikely to trade major concessions for extra support, sources say.

October 01, 2002|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As the Senate prepares for a potentially divisive debate this week on a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, negotiations continued Monday for compromise wording that could increase support for the measure from Democrats.

Sources close to the talks say the White House is still not likely to make major concessions to Democrats who want more emphasis on diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq and U.N. support for possible action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But with the talks proceeding Monday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) dropped plans to open debate on the resolution today, postponing it at least until after a Wednesday morning meeting that the White House called with congressional leaders.

At issue is whether the Bush administration will accept further concessions to expand support for the resolution among Democrats who think the president has requested powers too broad and unchecked by Congress.

"I'm not sure how far each side is going to move, but the goal still remains to get the broadest bipartisan support possible," said Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).

The push to alter the war authorization was given a bipartisan boost in recent days as Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a respected GOP leader on foreign policy, joined Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) in pushing an alternative resolution that would be more limited than President Bush's plan.

Sean McCormack, spokesman for Bush's National Security Council, said the proposal was "too narrowly focused" because it dealt only with enforcing U.N. Security Council language dealing with weapons of mass destruction, rather than upholding authority to act against Hussein in response to Iraqi support for terrorism and threats against its neighbors.

The resolution submitted by Bush two weeks ago requested open-ended powers to challenge Iraq and promote "peace and security in the region." That measure is sure to be amended--if only to incorporate changes that the administration agreed to last week in response to complaints from members of both parties that the measure was too broadly worded and should include some consultation with Congress.

But even those changes were not enough for many Senate Democrats. And partisan cross-fire over Iraq continued Monday as Republican leaders criticized the three House Democrats--including Californian Mike Thompson of St. Helena--who traveled to Baghdad over the weekend.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, attacked Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington for suggesting while in Baghdad that Bush would "mislead the American people."

"This conduct is outrageous," Davis said. "It is important that both political parties repudiate these statements, which are far outside the mainstream of rational political discourse."

The third House member to travel to Iraq was Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan.

One GOP senator--Charles Hagel of Nebraska--continued to sound a cautious note about Bush's push to topple Hussein.

"Regime change in Iraq should not be considered as either a military 'cakewalk' or nation-building on the cheap," Hagel said in a speech. "We must plan for and think through the 'day after' scenarios, the costs and commitment to rebuilding Iraq's political culture and economy."

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Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.

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