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Before the Iraq Vote, a Casting Call

Senate: With cameras rolling, Republicans and Democrats make their case.

October 05, 2002|RICHARD SIMON and NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats opposed to the resolution that would authorize President Bush to use force against Iraq pushed an alternative Friday that would require greater cooperation with the United Nations before a U.S. military strike.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to stand firm behind the president as the Senate's debate on the Iraq resolution heated up in its second day. No votes were taken, but competing arguments were laid out in anticipation of action next week.

In the end, both houses of Congress are expected to vote for a resolution giving Bush broad authority to launch, if he deems necessary, a preemptive strike to quell the threat the White House says is posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, argued that the United States should take more time to work with the world community.

Levin said his resolution would authorize the use of military force against Iraq only in concert with the United Nations.

"If Congress endorses the use of force even in the absence of a U.N. authorization, it enables the members of the Security Council to take a pass on the use of force," Levin said. "They can avoid taking a tough position on the basis that the United States will act, no matter what the U.N. does."

Levin added: "If done wisely, we can unite not only the Congress, but ultimately the world community, on a course of action that we all seek--the elimination of Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction."

But Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said he would back Bush.

"Saddam Hussein poses a clear threat to peace in the world, to America and our interests, to regional stability, and to his own people," Voinovich said. "I am convinced that the threat is real."

Voinovich added: "Saddam Hussein is the neighborhood bully, and only when neighbors come together and say enough is enough can he be stopped. He needs to understand that the jig is up and the world must act now together to protect the peace by confronting this bully."

The debate, though spirited, played out before a mostly empty chamber. Many lawmakers had left Washington for the weekend, some for campaigns, some to work in their states and others to attend a funeral in Hawaii for Democratic Rep. Patsy Mink, who died last week.

The senators were conscious, nevertheless, that their remarks were being televised. And some clearly sought to rouse viewers.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), an opponent of the White House-backed resolution, declared: "My office has received 1,400 telephone calls, just today. And almost every single caller has said, 'Wait! Slow down! Don't rush this through.' "

Byrd, his voice rising as he waved a copy of the Constitution in his hand, continued: "I plead with the American people. Let your voice be heard.... Let the leadership of this Congress know that you don't want this resolution rammed through this Congress before election day. The life of your son may depend upon it. The life of your daughter may depend on it."

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and former Navy secretary, said Bush needed to be given authority to use force against Iraq now. "Enough is enough," he said.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the war on terrorism should be a higher priority than action against Hussein.

"In the constellation of threats to our homeland and our interests abroad, in my judgment, terrorism represents the greatest and most urgent security threat to the American people," Graham said.

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