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Democrats Split On New Iraq Vote

The two most senior Democratic Senators stepped up their efforts Wednesday to slow the pace of a potential war with Iraq, even though some party leaders were hesitant about the idea of forcing President Bush to seek a second round of Congressional and U.N. approvals.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) offered legislation that would require Bush to seek Congressional permission before waging a war with Iraq, while Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) offered a measure directing the president to solicit similar approval from the United Nations.

“It may come to be that war is the only way to subdue the malevolence of Saddam Hussein,” Byrd said. “But that is not the decision for the United States to make unilaterally.”

Byrd specifically called on Bush to give the U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for nuclear and biological arms and said the United States should engage in a war with Iraq only if the U.N. sanctioned it.

“It is wrong for the administration to beat the drums of war,” Kennedy said. “We in Congress have a responsibility to the Constitution and the American people to act again on this all-important issue of war or peace.”

The Democratic Senators’ efforts were widely panned by their Republican colleagues, and even the two top Democratic leaders in Congress suggested additional votes might not be necessary.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) said Wednesday Bush must follow up on Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by providing Congress the same information he expects Secretary of State Colin Powell to deliver to the United Nations next week, adding that Bush still needs to explain the level of threat Saddam Hussein poses and why war is necessary.

These steps, Daschle suggested, “would trigger additional debate” in Congress and around the globe. But he specifically stopped short of calling for another use of force resolution, noting that the October approval of that issue gave Bush the authority to begin the war.

“I don’t necessarily believe it would require a vote,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

(D-Calif.) hit on a similar theme, suggesting that more disclosure of evidence against Hussein would help Bush’s cause internationally and with public opinion at home. “There certainly should be a full debate,” she said, but declined to endorse another war resolution.

To some degree, the hesitation by party leaders to try to force another Iraq vote mirrors the split among Democrats when the first Iraq resolution was passed, with some calling for an all-out challenge to Bush and others hoping to accommodate him on foreign policy while aggressively challenging the president on the economy.

Party strategists continue to worry about the fervent anti-war feelings among their base voters, who are far more stringently anti-Bush on foreign policy than the electorate as a whole. In particular, strategists are concerned how these dovish feelings among base voters will play out in the presidential nominating contest over the next year, whether the eventual nominee will have been moved too far to the left to appeal to centrist voters in the fall of 2004.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential aspirant whose most prominent backer is Kennedy, also paused when asked about his senior Senator’s demand for another vote on Iraq. He said he wanted to talk about the issue more with Kennedy, while indicating a generic support for another resolution that would end up with the same result.

“It’s always helpful to have people affirming things before we go to war, but it’s not always necessary,” he said.

Even Kennedy acknowledged it would be an uphill battle, but he vowed not to back down.

“I don’t expect a majority, no, but hopefully we will have some,” Kennedy said.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H) questioned the timing of the new legislative proposals, suggesting there might be an ulterior political motive.

“What will this resolution provide that has not already been provided by Congress in a bipartisan way?” asked Sununu, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “It is unclear to me how this vote or resolution would be different, other than satisfying a political need or other than serving to muddy the debate or delay the president and the administration from working with the security council to come to a resolution.”

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the views of Kennedy and Byrd are more in line with some European countries who have been critical of Bush’s handling of the situation.

“I think folks like Senator Kennedy subscribe more to the view of France and Germany than they do to the view of the president,” Gregg said. “That is their right, but it is not my view. I think we have to defend our security, and part of defending our security involves disarming Saddam Hussein.”

At least one Republican Senator expressed interest in Kennedy’s proposal, but stopped short of endorsing it. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Republican to vote against giving Bush authority to wage war against Iraq last year, said he was “intrigued by the discussion.

“Any time you are going towards war, the more discussion, the more debate the better it is,” said Chafee, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. “I think the American people expect that and want it.

“After all, open up your Constitution. Congress has the power to declare war,” he added.

Still, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the idea of calling for another round of votes was unnecessary.

“I think it would be the worst kind of message to send to the rest of the world, ‘Hey we already debated this once and it has had time to be criticized but we are going to come back and debate it again,’” said Chambliss, a member of both the Armed Services and Intelligence committees. “I don’t think that is the right way to do business.”

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