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Congressional Debate Grows Emotional

Aired October 9, 2002 - 12:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The debate, heated and emotional, is coming down to the wire over what action the United States might take in Iraq. The president wants to take on Saddam Hussein with whatever means necessary, but the director of the CIA is warning of potentially serious ramifications and dangers if the Iraqi leader is pushed too far.
Standing by this hour with the late-breaking developments, our Kelly Wallace. She is over at the White House. Kate Snow, she is on Capitol Hill, and Jane Arraf, she's in Baghdad with details.

Let's begin on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are arguing very passionately over how much authority to give President Bush in his bid to oust Saddam Hussein. Kate Snow is keeping track of all of that. What's going on right now -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, obviously getting emotional on the floor of the House as you just heard. They were here until after midnight last night. They picked up where they left off this morning. Each member, 435 of them, seeming to want their five minutes on the floor. Over in the Senate, debate continues as well. Senators get a little bit more time. Senator Olympia Snowe speaking a short time ago in support of the resolution authorizing the president to use force.


SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Some say we should wait until the threat is imminent. But how will we know when the danger is clear, present and immediate? When will people start checking into hospitals? When the toxins show up in the water supply? When the dirty bomb goes off? Because in the shadowy world of terrorism, as we have seen, that will already be too late.


SNOW: But there are continuing indications that the Congress is not going to speak with one voice alone on this. Democrat Russ Feingold speaking in the Senate saying the president has offered flimsy evidence to this point, and most of the Democrats who have spoken in the House in their debate so far, have spoken out opposed to the resolution.


REP. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: We don't owe Saddam Hussein any more time. We don't owe him anything. But we do owe our soldiers and our Marines, our sons and our daughters every effort to try every means before war, and it is clear that we have not yet exhausted all of our options before opening the door to war.


SNOW: Now, ultimately, House Democratic leaders saying, Wolf, they think that a majority of Democrats in the House will vote for this resolution, for the president, but those who lead the opposition now saying they may have more than 100 votes against the White House, against the resolution.

Bottom line, Wolf, that could mean about half of the Democratic caucus in the House voting against the president.

We'll see if that holds true when they take the vote tomorrow in the House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Kate, as you know, there's an added factor in all of this now. A letter from the director of the CIA to the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that there could be very serious ramifications if, in fact, the U.S. goes to war against Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader could use weapons of mass destruction right away. How is that impacting on this overall debate?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, that letter sent on Monday, as you mentioned, to the Senate side. In it, he cites an intelligence briefing that used to be closed and confidential. He cites an intelligence witness telling a congressional panel that he did not believe that Saddam Hussein would initiate an attack right now, that the probability of that in the foreseeable future was low.

He goes on to say, -- quote -- "should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at terrorist offenses in 1991 or CBW," as he calls it, chemical and biological weapons.

Now, opponents of the resolution, Wolf, as you might expect, say this is further ammunition for their side against taking unilateral action in Iraq. But as to your question about how it's going to impact the debate up here, I've been able to speak to a number of members about that. The general consensus, it won't impact very much because while opponents will see this as more ammunition for them, most people are fairly entrenched in their views at this point, Wolf. They know how they are going to vote. So this is not likely to sway the votes, but certainly something that is getting a lot of talk on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Snow on Capitol Hill. Kate, thanks very much.

At the White House, meanwhile, officials are trying to make sure George Tenet's comments don't derail passage of the Iraq resolution.

Our White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace, is monitoring that situation, and she is joining us now live. KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is saying that there's really no split here between the comments of the CIA director and President Bush. Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman also saying that the CIA director's comments really reflect the best estimates, the best guesses of the intelligence community, and that it is the view of the administration that it cannot wait for Saddam Hussein to possibly use weapons of mass destruction, weapons he denied he even has against the United States.

Ari Fleischer put it this way. He said -- quote -- "if Saddam Hussein holds a gun to someone's head, but he denies he even owns a gun, do you really want to take the chance that he'll never use it?"

White House officials also say really all bets are off if Saddam Hussein one day gets his hands on nuclear weapons. They then believe he will definitely be more likely to use chemical and biological weapons against the United States, because he then could, of course, use nuclear weapons if he is attacked by the United States.

Now, putting this all into perspective, White House officials are not concerned that this letter is going to affect their momentum in any way. They still believe this president will get strong, overwhelming victories in both the House and the Senate for this resolution, and they believe that will strengthen the president's hand when it comes to diplomacy up at the United Nations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's move on to the situation in Iraq. U.S. and British war planes attacked an Iraqi missile site in the northern no-fly zone earlier today. The U.S. says the planes were fired on by Iraq from the ground -- let's get the view from inside Baghdad right now, our bureau chief there, Jane Arraf, is joining us now live -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, that was in the north, and that's why this strike is relatively unusual. It's the first in over a month. Now, we've seen a lot of firing, a lot of activity over the no-fly zones in the south of Iraq. In fact, as we know, U.S. military officials have said that Iraq has actually stepped up its campaign to try to shoot down a U.S. plane in the past month.

In retaliation, the United States says, it has been launching more attacks over Iraq's southern skies. Now, the reason Iraq is trying to shoot down a plane is it considers the no-fly zones a violation of its sovereignty. It says they are actually invading the skies.

In other parts of the region, Iraqi officials today were warning Arab neighbors, including the ones that those strikes take place from, that they would pay a heavy price if they participated in a U.S. attack.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Damascus was telling Arab countries that even if they side with the United States and believe they are safe, they are not. That same message presumably made by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein himself. He held a very rare meeting with news executives today, with Qatari-based Al-Jazeera, the head of Al-Jazeera, Mohammed Jasimo Ali (ph) and several others who met with them. The president condemned the American threats and use of brute force, the threats of brute force against Iraq. Again, more warnings to Iraq's neighbors, Arab neighbors particularly, that they should really think twice before siding with the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane Arraf, our bureau chief in Baghdad, thanks very much.


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