WASHINGTON, D.C., September 30In a desperate effort to monkey-wrench President Bushs drive to win congressional backing for attacking Iraq, 74 Democratic members of the House have called on Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to convene the full Democratic caucus Wednesday to discuss the issue. Ohio's Dennis Kucinich and California's Bob Filner led the charge, in an effort to delay any vote and buy time for anti-war momentum to build.
Another anti-war resolution, by California Democrat Barbara Lee, has garnered 30 signatures.
Facing international and inner-Beltway resistance, Bush began to moderate the tone of his push for support. The administration has seen the backlash suffered by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been Bush's most steadfast ally. Over the weekend, Blair was confronted with 150,000 people marching in London against the war, and was the subject of harsh criticism at a Labor Party meeting. Labor members have been scathing of Blair for being a yes-man to the American chief.
While few doubt that Bush would still prefer to bring in the guns, he is now at least talking about the possibility that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein can be brought to heel by diplomatic means.
Formal debate on the Bush resolution is expected to begin in the Senate midweek and carry into the following week with a vote by week's end. The House schedule is uncertain.
In the Senate, anti-war lobbyists are also trying to put together enough Democrats to introduce their own stalling resolution, possibly to be sponsored by Massachusetts John Kerry. Kerry is an unannounced presidential candidate.
Further, three Democratic House membersall veterans of the Vietnam Warhave spent the week in Baghdad, where they said they were told Hussein would grant weapons inspectors unfettered access. Members Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan, and Mike Thompson of California called for Bush to be patient while Iraq moved to comply with UN demands. McDermott suggested Bush was trying to provoke a war.
Republican leaders have rushed to the president's defense. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, of Mississippi, announced that McDermott should "come home and keep his mouth shut."
Oklahoma Senate Republican whip Don Nickles said the three Dems were just mouthpieces for Saddam. "They both sound like spokespersons for the Iraqi government," he said on ABC. "They are taking the lines of the Baghdad government."
Undaunted, McDermott challenged the credibility of White House attempts to prove the necessity of attacking Iraq. "It would not surprise me if they came up with some information that is not provable," he said. "I think the president would mislead the American people." A White House spokesperson responded, "The American people know he hasn't misled anyone and the American people know he won't mislead anyone."
The facts suggest otherwise. In a September 7 press conference with Prime Minister Blair, Bush leaned on what he called a report from the International Atomic Energy Commission, based on Hussein's nixing of inspections in 1998. "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were deniedfinally deniedaccess, a report came out...that they were six months away from developing a weapon," the president said. "I dont know what more evidence we need."
But last week the commission claimed that no such document exists. "Theres never been a report like that issued from this agency," Mark Gwozdecky, head of the group, told Reuters last week.
Asked why Bush referred to an apparently imaginary document, the White House claimed he was really talking about a report from 1991. But Gwozdecky told Reuters no paper to that effect was issued by his agency in 1991, either.
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