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Inside Politics

Daschle: Cheney politicizing Iraq war

Cheney cites Saddam while campaigning

From Dana Bash (CNN Washington Bureau)

Daschle said he was
Daschle said he was "chagrined" by what Cheney had to say.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle accused Vice President Dick Cheney of politicizing the Iraq debate by urging an audience in Kansas to vote for a GOP congressional candidate because he supports President Bush on the issue.

"I must say that I was very chagrined that the vice president would go to a congressional district yesterday and make the assertion that somebody ought to vote for this particular Republican candidate because he was a war supporter and that he was bringing more support to the president than his opponent," Daschle said Tuesday. "If that doesn't politicize this war, I don't know what does."

Cheney on Monday was campaigning for Republican congressional candidate Adam Taff, who is running against incumbent Democrat Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas.

Speaking to the group of Taff supporters, Cheney said the United States "must not look the other way as threats gather against the American people" and that the "entire world knows beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein holds weapons of mass destruction in large quantities."

At the end of the speech, Cheney said, "For all of the challenges we face, the United States of America has never been stronger than we are today. And even better days are ahead of us.

Cheney with candidate Taff at Monday's fund-raiser.
Cheney with candidate Taff at Monday's fund-raiser.

"President Bush and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve our country. We thank you for your support -- not just for our efforts, but for good candidates like Adam Taff who will be a fine partner for us in the important work ahead."

Daschle's criticism of the vice president's speech echoed complaints from some Democrats who accuse Republicans of playing up the Iraq debate before the election for political gain.

"It goes to the question of what the goal is here. Is it regime change in Iraq or regime change in the Senate?" asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

"If this is really designed to be dragged out to get it closer to the election and to obscure every other issue including the limited success of our war against terrorism and the economy, then I don't give it much hope," he said.

Democrats may offer own Iraq resolution

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican staff members met Tuesday with White House officials over wording of a resolution giving the president authority to take military action against Iraq.

Democratic leaders hope to reach a compromise with the White House over the resolution's language in order to avoid putting Democrats in a politically precarious position of opposing the president on an issue of national security.

But Senate Democrats now say they may be forced to offer their own resolution if Bush does not abandon his request for authority to take unilateral military action against Iraq before exhausting all efforts at the United Nations.

"I think there will be an alternative," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

The Democrats say a U.S. "go-it-alone" approach would be counterproductive to efforts to build a broad international coalition against Saddam at the United Nations. Any resolution coming out of Congress, many Democrats say, should put the onus on the United Nations to threaten Iraq with force if Saddam does not comply with weapons inspections.

"The dividing question in the debate is not do we do something, but whatever we do, do we do it alone?" said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden, D-Delaware, are taking the lead working on language to address those concerns.

"I'm trying to think about the right way to formulate language," said Levin. "I believe that we should not be at this point talking about unilateral going-it-alone approaches while we're asking the U.N. to take strong action."

He added that such an approach "divides the world at a time we should be uniting the world against Saddam."

Republicans: Resolution must be tough

But Levin's Republican counterpart in the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said Congress must pass a strong resolution in order to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the issue and help forge an international coalition.

"There could be a change, but if that change is to come it's got to be perceived as strengthening the resolution, not taking it a single step backwards. A step backwards would create daylight between the Congress and the president and that would be exploited in the United Nations and elsewhere," said Warner.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, was dubious that the Democrats' attempt to force a more multilateral approach would get anywhere with the White House.

"If you're asking if the resolution should be dependent on the allies, I don't think that is going to fly and my guess is this really has to be a commitment of what we're going to do," said Lugar.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she is also working on a resolution that focuses specifically on the U.N. efforts to root out Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"I want to limit it to the weapons of mass destruction and provide language that in the event the United Nations does not compel compliance, then the president would be authorized to use force. So the first obligation would be on the United Nations," said Feinstein.

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