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White House, House Leadership Agree on Language

Aired October 2, 2002 - 13:01   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're standing by, awaiting the president of the United States in the Rose Garden over at the White House. He's going to be speaking on Iraq momentarily.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, John King -- John, what can we expect to hear from the president?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, both a celebration and a show of force, if you will.

The president celebrating an agreement with the bipartisan leadership in the House of Representatives on a resolution that authorizes him to use military force against Iraq, and a show of force in the sense that there will be some key Senate Democrats here at the White House as well.

There is still no deal with the Senate leadership directly, because Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle would not sign off on the same language Mr. Bush agreed to earlier today with the House leadership, but the White House believes increasingly that this is a done deal, that there is an agreement with the House, and there is broad, bipartisan majority support for the same language in the Senate.

Senator Joe Biden is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He and the senior Republican -- or a senior Republican, not the senior Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican, still say they may push forward with an alternative. That alternative, though, the White House believes will not carry the day in the Senate.

So, you will see the president today thanking the House for an agreement on a resolution authorizing him to use military force against Iraq if he believes diplomacy has failed, and the president putting on -- the pressure on the Senate to accept the same language. Most believe that is the way it is going to turn out by this point next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, what is the major difference between what Senator Biden and Senator Daschle and perhaps Senator Lugar have in mind on the one hand, and what Congressman Gephardt, the minority leader in the House, has now accepted?

KING: The language is quite similar. What Senator Biden and Senator Lugar and some others want is more language, additional language saluting the role of the United Nations, talking about how critical it is that the United States work in concert with the United Nations, that the Security Council adopt a tough new resolution, that the president work to build a coalition in terms of any military confrontation with Iraq.

The language agreed to between the White House and the House leadership does talk about the United Nations, and it does say that the preference would be that the United Nations Security Council act, but it also authorizes the president to use force outside of the United Nations. It does limit the use of that force, it restricts it much more so than the original White House proposal, narrowly focussed language on Iraq, on -- what it has called "the on-going threat," meaning the weapons of mass destruction, and on using force to force Iraq to comply with its commitments to the United Nations.

So, similarity in the language. It looks like the president's position, as of now, will carry the day. We'll see how this plays out over the next few hours.

BLITZER: All right. John, stand by.

I want to bring in our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl. He is also standing by on the Hill. For a lot of Democrats who are in tough re-election campaigns, this vote on this Iraq resolution could be very, very significant -- tell our viewers, John, how significant it might be, and in which specific races it could have a significant role.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of significant races. South Dakota comes to mind, especially because, of course, South Dakota is where Tom Daschle is from, the Senate leader, the Democratic leader, who has been critical of the way this process has gone forward.

Tom Daschle had been holding out for more changes, to further limit the president's authority to wage war against Iraq, but his own Democratic partner from South Dakota, who is up for re-election in one of the toughest races this year, Tim Johnson, said last week that he will support the president.

Now, Wolf, what's going to be very interesting watching this event that is about to happen at the White House, is the Democrats from the Senate that will be there with the president.

Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, will be there. Evan Bayh, another moderate Democrat. John Breaux, another moderate Democrat. They're going to be standing with the president while their own leader, Tom Daschle, was still working today to try to get more changes on that resolution.

Essentially what Democrats have done here, Democrats like Breaux and Lieberman, and Evan Bayh, is they have done an end around around Tom Daschle, leaving Tom Daschle with little or no leverage to push for further changes.

BLITZER: I know one Democratic presidential potential candidate John Edwards has been a hawk on the whole issue of a congressional resolution involving Iraq. What about John Kerry of Massachusetts? He presumably wants to be president. Where is he going to come down on this?

KARL: Well, John Kerry has been struggling with this. He has been trying to negotiate for more changes, he has been talking with people like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar about further changes. It's going to be very interesting to see in the end where he has come down. He has held his cards very close to his chest. He has been critical of the president, the way the president has pursued the effort in Iraq. When it comes down to actually voting on this resolution, though, a lot of people will be watching what John Kerry has done, and he has not indicated which way he will go.

BLITZER: Two Democratic senators in tough reelection campaigns -- I'm specifically referring to Paul Wellstone and Tom Harkin in Iowa, and in Minnesota. Those races could be affected by how these two very liberal Democrats vote on this resolution, is that right, John?

KARL: Oh, that's absolutely the case, and if you look at the history of Wellstone and Harkin, they would expect that almost certainly they would end up voting against this. After all, Paul Wellstone was elected and took office the year that we were debating the 1991 resolution, and Wellstone gave his first speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate against giving President Bush -- the first President Bush -- the authority to wage war against Iraq.

So, we would expect Wellstone to come out and to vote against this. We don't know, he has not said. But looking at their history, the history of both those liberal senators, you would expect they would be critical of this, but they are both, as you mentioned, in tough reelection campaigns in states where they could pay a price for voting against the president on this.

BLITZER: All right. John Karl, stand by on Capitol Hill. I want to bring back our John King over at the White House. John, you and I both remember very well, 1990, 1991, an earlier debate involving an Iraq resolution going through the Senate, the House of Representatives in advance of the Gulf War, January 1991. That vote, especially as far as Democrats are concerned, hovers over a lot of thinking right now. Explain to our viewers the thinking -- what that impact of that earlier vote 11 years ago is having on the vote right now.

KING: Well, one of the last Democrats to make up his mind in the vote 11 years ago was then Senator Al Gore of Tennessee. He ultimately voted in favor of the resolution authorizing force against Iraq. He voted -- made up his mind at the last minute.

Mr. Gore, of course, the opponent of George W. Bush in the last election, and a critic of this current policy, saying that the administration should deal with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden first, and Iraq down the road a bit. So the ghost of Al Gore, if you will, very present in this debate, and Jon Karl just noted, Senator Daschle now isolated a bit.

Senator Daschle was a deputy at the time, but George Mitchell was the majority leader at the time, and he was going back and forth, trying to find out how those moderate Democrats would vote at the end. So the leader often in a very difficult position here at the last minute.

And make no mistake about it, Wolf. This is an event about a resolution in Congress, but the president's goal here is to not only lobby the Senate, it is to send a message to the United Nations Security Council that the United States government is about to go on record in the next week speaking with one voice, the president and the Congress saying, that yes, they would like the United Nations to endorse possible military action against Iraq, but make no mistake about it. If the United Nations does not, that the United States government and the Congress has given the president the authority to do so.

BLITZER: One issue hanging over this vote is sort of -- the clock is ticking as far as a lot of these Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House, they want to go back to their districts, their states and campaign. They've got an election coming up in November, so they want to get this over with relatively quickly.

KING: Are that is a powerful argument. The White House believes in making the case that we now have an agreement with the House, the House Democrats and Republicans agree on this language, the vote will be far from unanimous, but it will be overwhelmingly supported and bipartisan. The White House position is the Senate should accept the same language, so that you do not have to have a conference committee that delays the process. The White House believes it has the momentum, as Jon Karl noted. The presence of several moderate Democrats here today, even Joe Biden saying up on Capitol Hill, he sees the momentum shifting. Doesn't mean he won't offer an alternative on the Senate floor, but most believe this break-through today guarantees that the president gets this resolution by early to middle of next week.

BLITZER: We just were showing our viewers, John King, a picture from the Rose Garden, a picture of the members who have shown up to welcome the president, to be received by the president as he walks in, presumably from the Oval Office to the back of the screen, then walks down that little patio and addresses the gathered crowd in the Rose Garden.

This is -- Jon Karl, this is an event that politically has enormous significance symbolically as this vote is about to unfold in both the House and the Senate. Isn't that true, Jon?

KARL: Oh, absolutely, especially the presence of those Democrats from the Senate, key Democrats from the Senate, standing side by side with the president. And just before this event, Joe Lieberman went to the floor of the U.S. Senate and introduced this resolution, the compromise struck by the White House on the floor of the Senate, and announced that he would be a cosponsor, along with Democrat Evan Bayh. If we have time, Wolf, we want to play what Lieberman said at the time, because he echoed the point that John King said about the need for international support.

Here's is what Lieberman said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: This resolution is our attempt to express our support of the president as commander in chief in seeking international backing for action against Saddam. It is also a way to strengthen the president's hand as commander in chief. If Saddam does not comply or the United Nations is not willing to take action to enforce its orders.


KARL: Now, in terms of timing here, Wolf, one thing politically the Democrats were thinking about is the most prominent Democrats of the last few days on Iraq have actually been David Bonior and Jim McDermott, who spoke from Baghdad, criticizing the president.

Most Democrats thought that was devastating politically to have their party associated with Bonior and McDermott, and their actions in Iraq. They felt it was time to get this over with, and show that they were supporting the president, that most of the party was supporting the president when it came to war with Iraq.

BLITZER: All right. Jonathan Karl. Stand by on Capitol Hill, John King, please stand by at the White House as well. We are going to monitor the president, as soon as he walks into the Rose Garden, we'll be going there live to hear directly from the president what he has to say about these Iraqi resolutions.


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