Members of Congress put aside most of their disagreements over the invasion of Iraq to praise President Bush and the 250,000 U.S. troops carrying out his war plans in the Persian Gulf region.
The Senate voted 99 to 0 yesterday for a resolution that "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President, as Commander in Chief, in the conflict against Iraq." The resolution effusively praised the troops "who are participating in the military operations in the Persian Gulf region, for their professional excellence, dedicated patriotism and exemplary bravery."
It also expressed "sincere gratitude to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government for their courageous support." Blair has stood by Bush despite substantial opposition from the British public and his own political party, contributing more troops to the U.S.-led effort than any other nation.
In the early morning hours today, the House voted 392 to 11 to approve a resolution expressing even stronger praise for Bush than did the Senate version, and stating that Iraq was in "material breach" of United Nations resolutions.
The debate over the wording was much more contentious in the House, where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unsuccessfully fought into the late evening to tone down support for Bush and delete other passages opposed by antiwar Democrats, congressional sources said.
Pelosi was squeezed between her base of antiwar liberals who felt the House resolution was overly supportive of the president and scores of other Democrats eager to be on record strongly backing Bush and U.S. troops. At one point, Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), a war proponent, fired off a letter to Pelosi pointedly warning, "we should not equivocate in our support." Pelosi voted for the resolution.
Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the GOP's lead negotiator in the talks, all but dared Democrats to vote against it by refusing to change disputed sections, including one stating "Congress expresses the unequivocal support . . . for [Bush's] firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq." In the end, 11 Democrats voted against the resolution; 21 voted present.
The Senate debate was far more bipartisan and unified in tone.
The Senate, which often has seemed conspicuously detached from the uproar over Iraq in recent months, at 2 p.m. interrupted a heated debate over the 2004 federal budget, which includes a rare wartime tax cut, to stage a three-hour discussion of the war 6,000 miles away. Republicans and Democrats paid tribute to the troops, some of whom were crossing the Iraqi border at that moment.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who three days ago blasted Bush for his failure to win U.N. approval to wage war, said: "We may have had differences of opinion about what brought us to this point, but the president of the United States is the commander in chief, and today we unite behind him as well."
Daschle was among 29 Senate Democrats who voted more than five months ago to authorize war. Since then, he and many other Democrats have been highly critical of Bush's handling of the showdown with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Yet even Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the most outspoken critics of Bush and his war plans, yesterday muted his criticism and showered his attention on the troops "now risking their lives for opportunity and hope and liberty and justice for all." His voice booming, Kennedy concluded his speech with words from Vachel Lindsay's poem "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight:" "Too many homesteads in black terror weep."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has assumed a low profile throughout the buildup to war, spoke of the president's "visionary leadership," and drew parallels to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "We are now at war, so we won't ever see what terrorists will do if supplied with weapons of mass destruction" believed to be held by Hussein, he said.
Yet the words of unity belied the division among Democrats over the resolution and the war effort overall. Hours before the House debate ensued, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) issued the type of warning Democrats such as Frost worry may come back to haunt them.
"This administration must also accept responsibility for the cost of conflict in blood, in money and insecurity to our families," Doggett said. "It may take decades to undo the damage to our safety wrought by misguided policies and the failure of diplomacy."
The Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement in opposition to the war.