Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that before the Congress adjourns it should establish a bipartisan leadership group that "ought to be consulted on a regular basis" by President Bush on the Persian Gulf situation.
Nunn said the group, which would be available for consultation while Congress is out of session, could be established by a joint resolution or through a simple agreement between the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.
Nunn in an interview later said he recognized that the president is under no requirement to meet with any group.
Nunn made his suggestion during a brief debate on the Senate floor that was initiated by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who proposed a resolution limiting the mission of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf area after Congress adjourns and before the next Congress returns.
Hatfield's proposal would limit use of U.S. forces now in Saudi Arabia to the defense of that country and enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It would also require Bush to invoke the War Powers Resolution or get authorization from Congress before he could send the U.S. troops into hostilities.
Hatfield said his measure was a reaction to a story in yesterday's Washington Post reporting that Bush had initiated consultations with members of Congress on possible use of military force in the Persian Gulf crisis in the event that U.S. troops are sent into battle while Congress is out of town.
A number of senators who had spoken out on the need for more White House consultation on the Persian Gulf situation said during the floor discussion yesterday that they had not been called to consult with the president. These included Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern affairs.
Nunn said he had been involved in a White House session with the president and several Senate leaders on gulf issues two weeks ago. In an interview yesterday, Nunn said the session had lasted 1 1/2 hours and "We all got to say what we thought." He called it "a consultation."
The idea of a bipartisan congressional leadership group was first proposed in 1988 by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) in a measure to amend the War Powers act.
It also was in the original draft of the Senate Persian Gulf resolution, but withdrawn after the White House objected.
The Senate on Tuesday passed the gulf resolution by a 96 to 3 vote, giving support to Bush's actions to date but leaving open what would be done in the future.
Nunn said yesterday that because of members' preoccupation with the budget crisis, the consultative group idea could be "falling through the cracks."