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Friday, October 11, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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House, Senate support Bush on Iraq resolution

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to grant President Bush the power to attack Iraq unilaterally, remove Saddam Hussein from power and abolish that country's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

Moving the nation closer to a possible second war with Iraq, the Senate voted 77-23 and the House voted 296-133 to authorize the president to "use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

The president needs no further congressional approval to deploy troops, order air strikes and wage a ground war with Iraq. "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally," Bush said after the House vote yesterday. "The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end."

With Congress' debate behind him, the president will focus on the United Nations. He is pressing the organization to adopt a new resolution demanding that Saddam immediately dismantle his weapons of mass destruction or face possible military action.

Not since Congress passed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution — which helped expand the Vietnam War — has a president won such broad and flexible authority to carry out an undefined military operation, historians say.

The bipartisan endorsement of Bush's Iraq strategy shows how dramatically the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, have changed U.S. foreign policy and altered views about pre-emptive military action.

"The events that tragic day jolted us to the enduring reality that terrorists not only seek to attack our interests abroad but also to strike us at home," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., told the House.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden Jr., D-Del., said the country's new enemies — terrorists and the nations harboring them — warrant a new response.

"The speed and stealth with which an outlaw state or terrorists could use weapons of mass destruction, and the catastrophic damage they could inflict, require us to consider new ways of acting, not reacting," Biden told the Senate. He fought unsuccessfully to limit Bush's military options to disarming Saddam.

Still, 126 of 208 House Democrats objected to the resolution, a higher number than some had expected.

In the Senate, 21 Democrats and one independent opposed the president in a vote just after 1 a.m. Eastern time today. Many cited concerns that Bush might take military action without U.N. approval and provoke a terrorist reprisal from Saddam, al-Qaida or other anti-America groups.

Six House Republicans and one Senate Republican, Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., opposed the resolution.

The Senate debate featured some drama, punctuated by sharp-tongued protests from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., that pushed the debate deep into the night.

Amid chest-thumping warnings to Saddam and others who wield tools of terrorism, Republicans and Democrats alike insisted that war with Iraq should come only as a last resort. But if Saddam refuses to readmit weapons inspectors promptly to verify the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction, Congress signaled, military action is highly likely.

"The war on terrorism will be fought here at home unless we summon the will to confront evil before it attacks," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "Only regime change can remove the danger from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Only by taking them out of his hands and destroying them can we be certain that terror weapons won't wind up in the hands of terrorists." Many of the House's most respected military and intelligence experts made similar remarks.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., raised concerns throughout the debate about Bush politicizing national security, but in the end he backed the president "because this resolution is improved, because I believe that Saddam Hussein represents a real threat, and because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment."

"Confront Saddam Hussein now, or pay a much heavier price later," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. "The idea of Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon is too horrifying to contemplate, too terrifying to tolerate."

Yet most lawmakers urged Bush to exhaust all diplomatic options, especially ongoing consultations with the world's most powerful countries at the United Nations, before attacking Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is negotiating with Britain, France, China and Russia — the U.N. Security Council's other permanent members — on a new U.N. resolution that would require Saddam to submit to immediate, unfettered weapons inspections.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said: "The power to declare war is the most solemn responsibility given to Congress by the Constitution. We must not delegate that responsibility to the president in advance."

But in a poignant reminder of the deep divisions inside the Democratic Party, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., broke with his father and sided with the president.

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