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US Lawmakers Remain Divided Over Iraq - 2002-09-18

Congress is moving ahead with preparation of a resolution to support possible military action against Iraq. Many lawmakers share administration skepticism about the sincerity of Iraq's agreement to allow United Nations weapons inspections, but others are critical of what they call President Bush's attempt to circumvent Congress' traditional role in authorizing war.

Congressional Republicans met with Vice President Dick Cheney again, as lawmakers work with the administration on the wording of a resolution to support military action against Iraq.

Senator John McCain told reporters Iraq's agreement to new inspections changes little. "This is not the first time that Saddam Hussein has offered to allow the inspectors to come back," he said. "It has been, on many occasions, where they have been back and they have been thrown out or they have been stifled or stymied in their efforts."

The chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Republican Henry Hyde, calls Iraq's offer "part of a strategic plan on the part of the Iraqi government to buy time and to further undermine the United Nations."

Senate Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle, said while evidence is still not conclusive about the full threat posed by Iraqi weapons programs, it is clear Iraq poses a danger.

However, many lawmakers, mainly Democrats, continue to complain the President is ignoring the fact that the constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war.

"We're in a new time in the 21st century," said California representative Bob Filner. "The war against terrorism, we are told. Now we have to do preemptive strikes. Well, I think the Constitution was not preempted by a 21st century war. The Constitution still applies."

Congressman Filner said last year's resolution authorizing military action in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks does not apply to Iraq. He and Texas democrat Sheila Jackson Lee urge a new "free-standing" debate.

"I want a rapid, soon-to-be full debate," he said. "I am not suggesting we are not in a dilemma that requires us to be informed quickly. But let us at least be informed, and let the American people be informed. That's the kind of debate I think is appropriate and constitutional."

Critics of the administration picked up support from more than 1,200 historians. They submitted a petition saying Congress, not the president, has the sole authority to declare war.

"At no point in this long run-up to a possible strike at Iraq, has President Bush ever indicated he was dependent upon Congress for a declaration of war, and yet that is exactly what the constitution, in Article One, Section Eight, requires," said UCLA history professor Joyce Applebee.

With pressure for an early congressional resolution supporting military action against Iraq, hearings are picking up speed.

Over the next two days, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and General Richard Myers, chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify before the House and Senate Armed Services committees.