December 14, 1995
Web posted at: 1:40 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican-led Senate reluctantly passed a resolution Wednesday conditionally supporting President Clinton's deployment of U.S. troops to Yugoslavia and its former republics.
With the signing of the Bosnian peace treaty in Paris a few hours away, the Senate voted 69-30 in favor of a resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole that avoided the word "approve," but said Clinton may fulfill his commitment to send around 20,000 US troops to Bosnia for about a year.
Ending two days of debate on Bosnia, Dole, R-Kansas, said the Senate's vote was a signal to the U.S. troops that "we support you."
However, Dole held that the resolution he and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, drafted in consultation with the White House "does not endorse the president's decision." "This resolution," he said, "does not endorse the agreement reached in Dayton. This resolution does support our men and women in uniform."
Vice President Al Gore said the Clinton administration supports the resolution even though it has "reservations" about the language.
The Dole-McCain measure would prohibit NATO peacekeepers from becoming involved in efforts to restore civil institutions in Bosnia and would commit the United States to lead initiatives to arm and train the Bosnian military.
Congress also debated two other Bosnia resolutions Wednesday: one seeking to cut off funds for the deployment of American troops, which was rejected in both chambers, and the other opposing the peace-keeping mission but supporting the troops. The latter passed in the House, but was dismissed in the Senate.
Shortly before the Senate vote favoring the mission, the House passed, 287-141, a resolution sponsored by Reps. Stephen Buyer, R-Indiana, and Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, stating "serious concerns and opposition to the president's policy" to deploy troops. But it expressed support for the soldiers and urged Clinton to provide them with whatever equipment is requested by field commanders.
Skelton reiterated that any U.S. involvement in arming and training the Bosnians would make American troops targets of Serb attacks. The Buyer-Skelton proposal said the United States should remain neutral and evenhanded in its dealings in Bosnia.
A resolution sponsored by Rep. Bob Dornan, R-California, seeking to cut funds to American troops in Bosnia was rejected by the Senate on a 77-22 vote. Hours later the House followed suit, but by a narrower 218-210 margin.
White House officials said they could expect little more.
"That was probably the strongest statement of support they could possibly make," White House spokesperson Mike McCurry said after the Senate vote. "Having voted overwhelmingly not to shut off funding is, in a sense, supporting the president's judgment."
The House and Senate did not see eye-to-eye on a resolution that opposed the peace-keeping mission, but supported the troops. The House passed it, but the Senate rejected it 52-47.
The resolution, backed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, was regarded as so close that Vice President Al Gore presided in case his vote was needed to break a tie.
Asked if Clinton could accept a resolution supporting the troops but not the policy, McCurry said, "We'll take it. We'll take it if we can get it."
"If it's a question of supporting the troops and being grudging in support of the mission, we understand that," said McCurry. "The president will accept that judgment."
Under the Constitution and War Powers Act, the president does not need Congressional approval for the use of troops in Bosnia, but Clinton had asked Congress for a vote of support for the mission.
Dole and his allies have made it clear in statements this week and on the floor that support for the Hutchison amendment would undermine not only the troop morale in Bosnia, but would completely undermine American global leadership and NATO.
Before the Senate vote on the House resolution to cut off funds for troops, Dole said on the floor that he opposed such moves during the Vietnam War. "It is wrong because it makes our braver young men and women bear the brunt of a decision not by them but by the commander in chief," he said.
"It was wrong during Vietnam, and it is wrong now," Dole said. "President Clinton does not have an exit strategy. A date is not an exit strategy. We will be debating that later, but this cutting off of funds is wrong."
'He will have to answer for their loss'
McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Clinton should be accountable to the families of any American soldier who dies during the mission. "He will have to answer for their loss. But so will I. So will I. I fully accept that in my support of the deployment and my efforts to influence its conduct and its termination, I incur this obligation."
Rival presidential candidate Phil Gramm, R-Texas, blasted the Clinton policy and the Dole resolution on the Senate floor. "Never, ever when NATO was established and never to this point in its functioning, have we ever viewed NATO as having the role of intervening in a civil war within Western Europe."
As lawmakers hotly debated the resolutions, U.S. military cargo planes were landing in Bosnia amid record snowfall.
It was a reality which Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledged when they conceded they were powerless to halt the deployment of U.S. troops as part of a 60,000-member NATO peacekeeping force:
"US troops will be deployed in Bosnia no matter what the Congress does," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania. "Congress should support the troops without endorsing the president's policy."
"I deplore the action of the president, but it is his decision and I will abide by that decision and support it, but, know well that it is a tragedy about to unfold," said Rep. George Gekas, R-Pennsylvania.
"I have reluctantly decided that it is in the best interests of the United States to support the deployment of U.S. troops at this time. I believe, however, that contrary to administration rhetoric, this will be a very difficult and long mission," said Sen. Bill Bradley, D-New Jersey.
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