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Senators Lott, McCain React to Bush Speech on Iraq

Aired September 12, 2002 - 12:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush has laid out his case against Saddam Hussein in his UN address today, but were his words strong enough to garner the support needed in Congress for a war?
CNN congressional correspondent Kate Snow, on Capitol Hill now, with reaction.

Hi -- Kate.


That reaction is flooding in. Let me just tell you there are several news conferences scheduled back to book this afternoon from key Democrats. We're also standing by for Senators Lott, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Senator John McCain, the former presidential hopeful. The two of them will be coming to the podium soon.

But at the top of this past hour, we just heard from Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate. He says that he thinks that the president gave a -- quote -- "very strong presentation," but Daschle going on to say the case, in his words, has not been made for military action, has not been made conclusively just yet.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Every time the president continues to speak out and speak out to each of us, he strengthens his case. I think it was helpful. I don't think it was conclusive. As I said, there are still many other questions that have to be resolved, have to be answered. But certainly, he continues to make the case, and I think that is helpful not only to members of Congress, but to the country and to the world community.


SNOW: Some of the questions that Daschle says he has, he says I want to see what the international reaction will be. And Senator Daschle saying that many senators here on Capitol Hill have that question: Will the international support be very strong? That will influence their opinions on Capitol Hill.

He also said he has questions about how an attack on Iraq would influence the war on terrorism. Would it strain the resources the United States has to fight that global war on terrorism.

And finally, he said he wants more answers about what would happen if the regime were changed in Baghdad. If that is ultimate goal, what would replace a Saddam Hussein regime?

And no time frame given, Kyra, by Senator Dashle in terms of when Congress might take up a resolution. There's been a lot of talk about whether that would happen before these midterm Congressional elections that are coming up in early November. Senator Daschle making some strong comments just now about the politics of all this, going out a little further than he has before. He said that you want to be very careful that this doesn't become a political debate. He said if the timing becomes too close to that election, you run the risk that senator's words will be seen as all politics and not necessarily a genuine debate -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Kate, I hear we are going to hear from Republicans soon. Will it be Senators Trent Lott and John McCain?

SNOW: That's right. Trent Lott and John McCain. The two of them don't always see eye to eye on things, Senator McCain known as a maverick here on Capitol Hill. He often differs with the administration, but on this question, Senator McCain has often come out supporting military action in Iraq.

We expect to hear -- there they are now, Senator Lott and John McCain. Let's listen in to what they have to say about the president's speech on Iraq.


SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: The president, in his remarks this morning at the United Nations, called upon Iraq to comply with all the UN resolutions, noting, of course, there have been 16 of them over the years. And if that is done, then there would be hope for peace with Iraq.

He did say that the U.S. will demand enforcement of the Security Council resolutions and will work to come up with a new Security Council resolution to finally answer the Iraqi challenge.

I thought the president was clear, forceful. It was obvious that he is committed to dealing with this very serious threat.

And now I think it's vital for the Congress to show the world that we back this president and will give him the authority he needs to protect the American people and the world community. We must vote to show support for the president right now.

This is a question of leadership and action because there is a serious threat.

As the president noted in his comments, it's one that has been gathering and growing over a long period of time. And I've gone back and looked at the resolutions that the Congress has considered in the past.

I introduced one way back -- well, in 1998 that had broad bipartisan support. We actually passed a very strong Senate resolution in 1998 that, once again, had bipartisan support and gave the previous president the authority to take actions to deal with this serious threat.

So I think the president has shown he's willing to communicate with the Congress, reach out to Congress, talk to the American people, talk to our allies around the world, go to the United Nations, point out the threat and the need for us to show that we will deal with this problem. And now, we need to show the American are united and support of this president and the Congress needs to act.

I'm pleased that Senator McCain is here with me this morning.

Senator McCain, you might want to comment.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We'll probably be making this a weekly event.

I think the president has embarked on a well planned effort to rid the world in this country of the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein.

He has, as we requested, agreed to come to the Congress for approval. He has entered into a conversation with the American people. He went to the United Nations Security Council and asked the United Nations not to become irrelevant. Because if Saddam Hussein ignores Security Council resolutions, then clearly, they will lose their effectiveness and become a League of Nations.

I believe that the president made it clear that he does expect immediate action. I'm talking about within weeks on the part of the Security Council in enforcing the provisions of the cease-fire agreement that was made in 1991. And that has clearly been violated for at least four years.

The president, I believe, deserves a vote on the part of the Congress of the United States before we go out of session, for the following reasons. One, when he consults with our allies and makes his case for a robust weapons inspection regime, he needs to tell our allies and people throughout the world that the American people are behind him, as articulated by a vote on the part of the Congress. And I am confident that the president will receive a majority vote.

Two, we know that from reading published media reports that there is troop movements going on and certain activity, such as General Franks and his mobile command post moving to Qatar, as we speak. And it will take a period of time before any military action might be initiated.

I would not like, as a representative of the people of Arizona, to vote ex post facto. I think that it would be important that Congress express its will before this military buildup begins.

And by the way, I have no information as to what any plans might be. So I hope that we could begin hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee, the Center of Arms Services Committee, if necessary competing resolutions. One by Senator Lott on behalf of the -- and others on behalf of the administration. And perhaps, the Democrats may have another resolution, which was exactly what happened in 1991. And we could vote on both. But the point is, we need to have the hearings, which would educate not only the Congress, but the American people, a debate which was one of the high points in the view of most observers in 1991 on that level. And then that expression be made either in an up or down vote on one or more competing resolutions before we leave sometime early in October.

LOTT: Let me just say, we will give you a packet of material that will include previous actions by the Congress, and speeches by members of the Senate and the former president over a period of time and also the specific resolution that we passed in 1998. And I'd be glad to take questions further on it.

QUESTION: Senator Lott, the president talked about UN resolutions that not only include weapons of mass destruction, but also talked about human rights and a variety of other issues. Do you think the resolution (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of those resolutions as well as the compliance with weapons inspections and so on?

LOTT: The president noted that there have been all of these resolutions over the years passed by the United Nations with regard to the weapons of mass destruction, the violation of human rights, the economic sanctions. And that they should all be complied with. And I think, while we haven't yet started actually developing the language, I've been talking to Senator McCain briefly and to Senator Warner and others about what we might want to look to there. But I think it would be to give the president all the authority he would need to take necessary action in dealing with this threat.

MCCAIN: All of those things are important, but the real question is, is are we going to be able to act in such a way that Saddam Hussein will be prevented from ever being able to use a weapon of mass destruction against the United States of America?

LOTT: Usually, we have a long list of "whereas" -- the resolutions, what he has violated, what the problems are, and the resolve stating what the Congress is authorizing the president to be able to do.


QUESTION: Senator, as you know the case the president made was based on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) votes, including previous resolutions. Did the president make the case for urgency, for the need to act urgently on this?

MCCAIN: I believe he did in this respect, that everyone knows that Saddam Hussein has embarked on an effort to acquire the weapons of mass destruction, varying from expert to expert as to exactly where he is.

But there is no expert that doesn't agree that he is bent on acquiring those weapons. So we need to act in a timely and measured fashion in keeping with the decisions that the president makes in consultation with his military advisers. But I think the president made it very clear that there would not be an indefinite period of time of debate, parsing words, et cetera.

But he did, I think, act absolutely correctly. And the will of the American people is expressed by polls: "Go to the United Nations and tell them he wants them to act, which is their responsibility, as well."

LOTT: You know, the latest action by the United Nations -- I guess, maybe it took place in 1999 -- we knew a lot of things about what he had, capabilities he had then and we know for sure that he has been continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction and work on the ability to deliver them. You know, one of the considerations here is time. With every passing day, every passing week he gathers greater capability and the threat is even greater.

President Clinton, in 1998, made this comment: "And some day, some way, I guarantee you that he will use the arsenal. If Saddam Hussein rejects peace, we have to use force." That was in 1998. And there has been plenty of evidence that he has continued to move to develop weapons of mass destruction since then.

MCCAIN: Could I add one comment, which is irrelevant to the question, uncharacteristically of me? And that is that, I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult. It may entail the risk of American lives and treasure, but Saddam Hussein is vastly weaker than he was in 1991. He does not have the support of his people.

And I'd ask one question: What member of the Iraqi army is willing to die for Saddam Hussein when they know he's going to be taken out? So I don't think it's going to be nearly as difficult as some assume.

QUESTION: Senator, do you feel like your Democratic colleagues are foot-dragging at all with some of the people who are saying they have all these concerns? I mean, what do you think their problem is?

MCCAIN: I think that it's pretty clear from Senator Daschle's remarks that he has not yet committed to a vote before we go out of session. I don't think he has rejected it, but I don't think he's committed to it. I hope that we can convince him that it's necessary for us to have a debate and a vote before we go out of session.

LOTT: Yes. And we shouldn't wait for the United Nations to act. We should show that we are united in our support of this president and in the goals that he has laid out. That's part of our leadership role in the world.

MCCAIN: It bolsters the president's argument when he has an expression which I think will be significant majority of Congress being behind him and supporting of him.

Second of all, from a practical standpoint, as I mentioned before, military action may take place -- and I emphasize "may" -- before we came back in the month of January. And so we feel we would be abrogating our responsibilities, and I couldn't expect the president to say "Gee, if I have to act, I can't, either call Congress back or wait for their approval."

QUESTION: Are you saying that vote for you now showing the will of the American public would help with the United Nations? But the '90 vote was actually pretty close, and if you listen to the Democrats right now it sounds like a lot of them are against it.

So would it not be counterproductive to have a vote that barely passes? Why not wait to try to get the Democrats more on board?

LOTT: We have time for there to be hearings, as Senator McCain pointed out, to have a reasonable period of time for debate and vote.

That vote in the early '90s was very close, unfortunately. And I suspect there are some senators that would probably change that vote if they had had another opportunity later or even now.

This is a very different situation. And while there are people that do want to know more, they want to be able to have a chance to hear the case, make the case, there are a lot of Democrats that have already indicated that they, you know, would expect to vote for a resolution. And I think that there is broader support out there than you might expect.

I don't think we should inject politics here. I think we should do what is necessary to deal with this very serious and growing threat.

MCCAIN: I've talked to many of my Democrat colleagues. Yes, they have concerns. Those concerns are legitimate. But I believe at the end of the day when it comes to vote, in fact, I am convinced that there will be much larger majority if favor than there was in 1991.

QUESTION: What form would the resolution take? Would it be a resolution supporting the president's commitment to enforcement of the UN resolutions, or would it be a resolution in support of the president taking military action, even unilateral military action? Might that not produce a different vote?

MCCAIN: The Security Council resolutions are still in effect and the cease-fire agreements are still in effect, which call for the return of weapons inspectors.

So I'm sure the resolution would encompass that aspect of Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with the cease-fire agreement that literally saved his life and his position.

LOTT: Let me just -- on that point, we're going to be discussing exactly what would be the best approach and what the language would be in the next few days. We'll have key members of Congress that will have some thoughts on it.

I don't see that there's a need to, again, as John was just pointing out, recite, you know, the insistence that these resolutions all be complied with. This is going to be joint support for what we need to do for this president's leadership and to take all necessary actions to make sure that those weapons are found and destroyed. And, of course, this threat that he poses is dealt with.

PHILLIPS: We first heard from the Democratic side and now the Republican side, Senators Trent Lott and John McCain discussing the Republican reaction to the president's speech before the UN today.

We'll bring our Kate Snow back in. She is live on the Hill to talk more about this reaction.

Pretty straight forward, Kate.

SNOW: Yes. Well, Kyra, talk about ratcheting up the pressure on Senator Tom Daschle. You heard the two Republicans there, Trent Lott, the minority leader, and also from Senator John McCain -- obviously. a very well-known former presidential candidate. Both of them putting a lot of precious on Daschle to bring up a vote sooner rather than later. Both of them said that Congress needs to act.

You heard Senator Lott say, just towards the end there, that he does not believe they even need to wait for the United Nations to go forward with whatever it is going to do in terms of a resolution. He is talking about writing up language for a congressional resolution of support of some sort for the president. He said they are taking about language now. They want to get this done before these elections come up in early November. Certainly, politics playing into this a little bit, Kyra, because those elections are looming.

Also talk of -- very favorable about the president's speech, Senator Lott saying that he thought that president made the case very well. They think that he laid out the case against Iraq by going back through history. Again, John McCain saying that he expect there will be action within the next several weeks on the part of the administration. He also talked about the war, McCain saying that he, in his opinion, this would not necessarily be a very difficult war to fight. He said as a former military man, you are faced with a enemy in Iraq, a very vastly inferior army in Iraq. He said he didn't think this would be a protracted struggle, against Iraq -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Our Kate Snow, live on the Hill. Thanks so much, Kate.




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