Congress entered the debate over the Falkland Islands crisis yesterday as a resolution supporting Britain abruptly surfaced on the Senate floor two hours before senators were to meet with Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. on the issue.
The resolution, offered by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) as an amendment to a pending nuclear waste disposal bill, was quickly fought off by Republican leaders objecting to the hasty nature of the motion.
"This Senate is not going to handle a Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the Falklands in this manner," said Senate Majority Whip Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
However, Biden said after the Haig meeting that the resolution would be considered by the Foreign Relations Committee this morning and brought to the floor again this afternoon. About 70 senators attended Haig's briefing, which Biden said, produced little new information. He added, however, that the administration is not expected to oppose his resolution.
The Biden resolution, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) calls on the U.S. government to "use all appropriate means to assist the British government in achieving, in the Falkland Islands, full withdrawal of Argentine forces and full implementation of the principle of self-determination."
"Time is running out," Biden said, adding that the Argentines "should be disabused of the notion that the U.S. is neutral and will do anything other than support its ally, Great Britain." If the United States does not intervene before an armed confrontation in the Falklands, he suggested, it will look like a nation that didn't "have the guts to take a stand." Moynihan suggested that the United States stop following the "straight and narrow path between right and wrong," and instead support the British to the point of imposing economic sanctions on Argentina.
While Republican leaders managed to hold off consideration of the issue for a day, there was clear bipartisan support for quick action.
"This is an issue that belongs in front of us," said Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.). "The perception is we do not have a clear policy. It is time we disposed of that notion. We do have a policy and it is on the side of our traditional ally, Britain."
Despite the hawkish rhetoric, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) emerged as the dove of the debate. "I would not like to see this country going to war over something that could have been averted many years ago," he said, arguing that the resolution might lead to an invasion.
During the debate, which lasted less than an hour, the scene on the Senate floor was almost comical as a small group of senators, who had been somnolently debating the technicalities of nuclear waste disposal, and politely arguing over whose state could avoid any waste sites, were startled out of their chairs by the Biden assault.
Senate rules allow such non-germane amendments to be brought up without notice even when it disrupts ongoing legislation.
Nonetheless, Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), who is managing the nuclear waste bill, objected violently when Stevens, seeking to head off Biden, announced the Senate would adjourn so all members could attend Haig's briefing.
"We've got people trying to make the evening headlines," McClure said, alternately glaring at Biden and Stevens, "while some of us are trying to get some legislation passed. Will we deal with the issue of nuclear waste? Obviously not this week. We've been pre-empted."
As Stevens coolly observed that "senators have their rights," Biden interrupted his two Republican colleagues, warning them not to get "so steamed up" and agreed to bring his resolution up in the morning.