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Democrats say Congress must OK action against Iraq

WASHINGTON—Two senior Democratic senators said Thursday that the Constitution requires President Bush to get congressional approval before waging war with Iraq.

The firm line drawn by Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, increased the bipartisan pressure on Bush not to rush into battle.

White House officials, meanwhile, sent signals the president will seek congressional endorsement for any military action, while insisting that the Constitution does not require him to do so.

"There's growing sentiment at the White House for getting Congress on the record," said one Republican strategist with close ties to the administration, who requested anonymity.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush's lawyers, who have contended that the president does not need congressional approval, would not have the final say on whether Bush puts the issue to a vote.

"The president will make that determination based on a variety of factors," Fleischer said. He stressed that Bush has not made any decision about military action. "Democracies don't go to war lightly. The public support of the American people would be vital."

Fleischer acknowledged that there is growing and widespread support in Congress for a vote. The White House has said it will consult with Congress, but has not committed itself to seeking a vote of support.

International pressure on the administration also mounted Thursday, as French President Jacques Chirac called for the United Nations Security Council, not Bush, to decide whether war with Iraq is necessary.

In the last week, numerous countries around the world have strongly criticized Bush's plans for a war.

Vice President Dick Cheney continued to make the case for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, repeating his warning that Baghdad presents a serious and immediate danger to the world that cannot be allowed to fester.

Speaking in San Antonio, Cheney told Korean War veterans that Saddam has broken his promise to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he said, Iraq is "busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue an aggressive nuclear weapons program.

"These are not weapons designed for the purpose of defending Iraq," Cheney said. "These are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam Hussein can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses in his own region or beyond."

Iraq's oil wealth is another source of power for Saddam, Cheney said.

"Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, sitting atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserve, Saddam Hussein would then be expected to seek domination of the entire region and take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, and directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to blackmail," Cheney said.

Cheney said Bush would "consult widely" with Congress, as well as with "our friends and allies around the world." But he did not address the issue of a vote.

Feingold said the White House is required by law to seek a vote.

"The Constitution says that Congress has the sole power to declare war," Feingold said. Not doing so, "is an affront to Congress and to the American people."

Leahy called for a full debate and a vote, citing the Constitution.

Both Leahy and Feingold have co-sponsored resolutions calling for the president to seek congressional votes before attacking Iraq.

Republicans also have called on Bush to bring the issue to a vote. Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that Bush probably doesn't need legislative approval to go to war, but that he should get it anyway.

There is every indication that Congress would support the president if he made the case for war. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said on CNN Thursday that Iraq presents "a threat to the United States.

And if we put together the right plan and we present it correctly to the American people, we hold the allies together behind it, I think we have a good chance of success."

A Republican leadership aide said the White House appears to be moving toward a vote.

"I would think the White House would want a vote," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If you're going to commit American lives, you're going to want to have support."


(Knight Ridder correspondent Ron Hutcheson contributed to this report.)


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.