Senate avoids vote on using added force in Yugoslavia

Leaders wary of sending mixed message on support for U.S. role in conflict

War In Yugoslavia

May 01, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With the Senate increasingly divided over the Kosovo conflict, the leaders have decided to sidestep a vote on whether to authorize U.S. force beyond the current airstrikes.

Their decision means that the Senate will stand -- for another couple of weeks, at least -- on the bipartisan measure it approved last month to support the NATO air war in Yugoslavia.

Senators of both parties say they want to avoid a repeat of the mixed, and some believe harmful, message about U.S. support for the war that was conveyed by House votes taken this week.

"There is not unanimity on this," said Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Georgia Republican, prompting laughs from his colleagues at the understatement. Therefore, Coverdell said, reopening debate on the Kosovo issue "could send signals around the world that are confusing."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle told reporters that he and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott have agreed on a plan to put off indefinitely any new test of Senate sentiment.

"I think there's an overwhelming sentiment that this is not the time for the Senate to express itself in greater detail than what we've already done," Daschle said. "A good percentage -- far more than a majority of our colleagues -- expressed themselves in support of the air war. Let's wait until there is a clear option that we actually have to make a decision on."

Because of the 1973 War Powers Act -- which limits the president's power to wage war without congressional approval -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was forced to act yesterday on a measure that would authorize President Clinton to use "all necessary force and other means" to achieve NATO's objectives in Kosovo.

Split several ways on the policy question, the committee could agree only to send the measure to the full Senate, without a recommendation -- and even that vote was divided, 12 to 4.

Senate debate on the measure Monday is scheduled to end with a parliamentary move by Lott and Daschle to kill the proposal. That move is expected to encounter little opposition, except perhaps from the chief sponsor, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

"A debate on such a momentous decision should not be given such short shrift by the leadership," McCain said yesterday in a statement that called the leaders' decision "a serious abrogation of the Congress' constitutional responsibility and moral obligations."

Several of McCain's co-sponsors, who include a cross-section of Republicans and Democrats, agreed.

"The fact is, we are at war," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican. "As those who represent the people of this country, we have some responsibility to stand up and say whatever we believe. For Congress to act like nothing is going on is the height of irresponsibility."

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the McCain proposal, said he was eager for a strong and speedy statement from the Senate demonstrating America's determination that NATO succeed.

But, Kerry added, "I feel compelled to say that what happened [in the House] was gutless and craven."

On Wednesday, the House, which had also been compelled by the War Powers Act to take a stance on the Kosovo conflict, adopted contradictory positions.

Bipartisan majorities voted to bar Clinton from sending ground troops into Kosovo without approval from Congress. At the same time, the House voted against ordering a halt to the U.S. role in the NATO bombardment.

Finally, at the conclusion of a long and anguished debate, the House refused, on a tie vote of 213 to 213, to approve the Senate-passed proposal endorsing the air war.

Since the Senate had voted last month to back the air war, Lott has been resisting the efforts of McCain and others to take up other Kosovo proposals, for fear of further exposing sharp divisions.

A divergence of views even on the Foreign Relations Committee was indicative of the problem. A faction of five or so backs the McCain proposal. Another bipartisan group of perhaps four opposes the air war. A third faction backs the air war, but won't support ground troops.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, says it is too soon to make any decisions about a change in military tactics.

"Everybody is so eager for a quick result," Sarbanes complained. "I don't think the approach being used has been given anywhere near adequate time to be effective to bring about the desired result."

Pub Date: 5/01/99

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