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Anti-war Faction in US Congress is Small, but Vocal - 2002-10-04

Lawmakers opposing a pre-emptive U.S. strike on Iraq say their constituents are urging them, in overwhelming numbers, to vote against the Iraq resolution being considered by Congress. A small but vocal anti-war faction continues to make its case even as key congressional leaders predict eventual wide bi-partisan approval of the resolution by House and Senate.

At a news conference, Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky walks to the podium with a large stack of e-mails from her constituents. "These are in support of the president's resolution for unilateral pre-emptive strike on Iraq, and this is the mail I've gotten against, from my district. This is in opposition to going to war," she said.

The Illinois Democrat is not alone among lawmakers who say they are receiving thousands of emails and letters urging them to oppose the Iraq resolution.

With the House and Senate scheduled to vote next week, it appears more and more likely President Bush will get the stamp of approval he is seeking from Congress for possible military action.

However, what has come to be called the new anti-war faction in Congress, consisting mostly of House Democrats, continues to put out its message. "I am opposed to the resolution, I am opposed to war at this moment and will vote against it," said Danny Davis of Maryland.

Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon added, "What it all constitutes in the end is a blank check for the President of the United States."

Another opponent is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. "If you pierce the vale of unanimity on this question, you will find out that there is great opposition to this war," she said.

Opponents of military pre-emption against Iraq make similar arguments. One heard most often is that the Bush administration has failed to present sufficient evidence that Iraq poses an imminent threat.

Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown calls pre-emptive action against Iraq a dangerous, radical departure from past U.S. military doctrine.

"If that's what we choose to do, if that's what Congress does, and that's what the President decides, to do unilateral action in Iraq, it sends a message to our allies and to others around the world, that if the United States, the world's super-power, a member of the U.N. Security Council is willing to do that, then why can't we?," he said.

The emergence of the anti-war faction has underscored divisions within party ranks. Many Democrats are angry at the decision by top House Democrat, Richard Gephardt, to support an agreement with the White House.

John Conyers, a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, castigated Mr. Gephardt. "This is the most disturbing arrogation of constitutional power by any president in my memory," he said. "I am completely at a loss to explain to you why the minority leader of the House, the Democratic leader, would join with President Bush in this kind of activity."

Mr. Gephardt, a likely presidential contender in 2004, defends his role in crafting a compromise with the administration, and dismisses as "unfair" allegations that he "sold out" members of his party on the issue.

On next week's vote on the Iraq resolution, he says, members should vote their conscience and avoid playing politics.

"You can't play games with this," he said. "It is immoral to play games with this. We're talking about people's lives. I'm a parent with three children. If I thought some politician was playing with their lives for political purposes, I would be morally outraged."

While leaders of the anti-war group in Congress say their cause is gaining momentum, they decline to say how many votes they have now to oppose the Iraq resolution, or how many Republicans will join them.

Most observers expect the Iraq resolution agreed to with the Bush administration this week to easily pass in the House, while in the Democrat-controlled Senate the resolution, or an alternate version, is also likely win approval.