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Should President Bush Consult Congress Before Declaring War on Iraq? - 2002-08-31

U.S. officials say President Bush is expected to consult with U.S. lawmakers before moving forward with any military action aimed at ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But it is not clear whether Mr. Bush will seek a vote in Congress authorizing such action. Lawmakers, including those from Mr. Bush's Republican Party, are divided over whether a vote is necessary.

White House lawyers say Mr. Bush does not need Congressional approval, if he decides to launch a war against Iraq. But administration officials agree, it would be politically unwise to move forward with any such action, without consulting Congress.

Lawmakers have been urging the administration to do just that. Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, has been among the most vocal.

"The American people deserve to hear why we need to be an aggressor, why we need to risk the lives of their sons and daughters, why we need to take pre-emptive action against Iraq. Now, perhaps, we should do so. I am not saying that we should not, but I am saying that Congress needs to know about this," Senator Byrd said.

Senator Byrd believes the administration must get formal authorization from Congress for any military action against Iraq. In a written statement the Senator says, "The intent of the Framers, embodied in the very spirit of the Constitution, is clear: Congress has the sole authority to declare war."

Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, echoed that sentiment in a recent NBC Meet the Press interview. "What I think is necessary, when the president decides, if he decides, that he has to physically take out Saddam Hussein, he has an obligation under the Constitution to come to the Congress and make the case. Then, the Congress votes. Legally and politically: Would you dare take a nation to war, without the support of the Congress?" Mr. Biden said.

Some Republicans agree. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania addressed the issue in a recent CBS Face the Nation program.

"If you have Congressional action, then it buttresses the point that there has been a lot of thought given to a resolution to use force, that it is not just a decision of one man, even the President of the United States," Mr. Specter said.

But some Republicans argue formal Congressional authorization is not needed. Among them are the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, and Congressman Tom Delay of Texas, the number three Republican in the House.

Mr. Delay spoke to the issue in a Fox News Sunday broadcast. "Obviously, Congress has a part to play in developing this policy and working with the president. The president is consulting with us over time. But we ought to let the commander-in-chief decide when and what he needs to be doing in leading this country," he said.

The debate is expected to continue when lawmakers return from their August recess on Tuesday.