WASHINGTON -- As the United Nations Security Council gave its approval yesterday to the use of military force against Iraq, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House told President Bush that they could not guarantee strong bipartisan support for a similar resolution in Congress.
The House speaker, Thomas S. Foley of Washington, and the House minority leader, Robert H. Michel of Illinois, told Mr. Bush at a private White House luncheon that he might prevail in Congress if he pressed for a vote now but that he could fall short of a clear-cut mandate to use force against Iraq this winter and might well set off a divisive debate among lawmakers.
They advised Mr. Bush not to call a special session of Congress on the Persian Gulf.
The message from the congressional leaders underscored the absence of agreement in Washington on whether and when to take military action against Iraq to force its withdrawal from Kuwait.
Although Mr. Bush enjoyed solid bipartisan support from Congress for his initial deployment of U.S. troops in August to defend Saudi Arabia, lawmakers have been much less willing to give formal endorsement to the assignment earlier this month of nearly 200,000 more troops to the gulf and Mr. Bush's threat to take offensive action against Iraq this winter.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that the U.N. resolution would send a "deadly serious" warning to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
"The main thing that I hope will come out of today's session of the United Nations is that we send perhaps the clearest signal of all to Saddam Hussein that the world is deadly serious about reversing this aggression," Mr. Bush said.
Top Republican leaders in the Senate have told the president that the threat cannot be credible unless Congress is also on board, and they have urged Mr. Bush to call a special session to win that kind of endorsement, apparently hoping that Democrats, influenced by the U.N. resolution, would fall in line behind the president to send a united message to Baghdad.
But a special session could backfire on the president if Democrats used it to try to pass legislation restricting the White House.
Although the possibility of a special session remained alive yesterday pending a White House meeting today with a larger group of leaders from both the House and the Senate, it seemed to have receded.
The president's spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said yesterday that Mr. Bush was "reluctant" to bring Congress back, but he refused to rule out the possibility.