Congress words resolution backing Bush

Bipartisan support for signal of solidarity behind military response

`All necessary force'

Terrorism Strikes America

Washington

September 14, 2001|By Karen Hosler and Thomas Healy | Karen Hosler and Thomas Healy,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Congress worked yesterday toward giving President Bush wide authority to use military force to retaliate for Tuesday's terrorist attacks. But some lawmakers expressed uneasiness about giving the president open-ended power to take pre-emptive action to deter future attacks.

After a day of joint meetings between Democrats and Republicans, congressional leaders said they hoped to approve the resolution within a week. They said that there was widespread support for the action but that they were still hammering out the final language.

A draft of the resolution, submitted by the White House, would authorize the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to avenge the attacks Tuesday. It would allow the president to go after any "nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided in the attacks" against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

There is widespread agreement that Bush already has authority as commander in chief to respond to attacks against the United States and to combat terrorism. But the president and the bipartisan congressional leadership said it was important to send to the world a clear sign of their united determination to strike back powerfully.

"I would be very pleased to see a strong resolution come out of Congress supporting the administration and what we intend to do," Bush told reporters yesterday

The parties' congressional leaders, working in an unusually cooperative manner, offered no resistance to the president's plan to retaliate against nations that harbor terrorists as well as the terrorists themselves.

"If the president wants and seeks additional authority or a restatement of present authority that's appropriate, we are quite willing to do that," House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt said. "We want to give him the tools that he needs and his administration needs to deal with this problem."

But many lawmakers, particularly senators, expressed grave reservations about giving Bush a blank check to act pre-emptively, without further congressional consultation, against terrorists. Bush has requested that he be authorized to take actions necessary to "defer and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism against the U.S."

Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, said the open-ended language reminded him of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that President Lyndon B. Johnson invoked as his authority to conduct the Vietnam War as he saw fit.

"I am troubled about authorizing the president to do anything he wants without specific approval from Congress," Breaux said. "If he just comes back and asks us, I think we would give him anything he needs."

A few lawmakers argued yesterday that Congress should go even further by passing a declaration of war against terrorism.

"We're not interested in reading them their Miranda rights," said Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, who introduced such a resolution. "We want to take them out, lock, stock, barrel, root and limb."

But the White House did not seek such a declaration, and congressional leaders were not inclined to provide one. They said it was not appropriate in this circumstance where the enemy is not considered to be a specific nation.

Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, observed that the last time the United States declared war was when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 60 years ago.

"I think it would be beneath our dignity to have a declaration of war against [Osama] bin Laden," Warner said, referring to the Saudi exile who is suspected of directing a terrorist organization that has targeted the United States.

Warner added that if there was such a declaration, "the American public and the world would expect the troops to move the day afterward, and I don't think we are anywhere near, in the assessment of the situation, to have that clarity."

Meantime, Congress moved last night toward approving $40 billion in emergency money to deal with the devastation in New York City and the Pentagon -- twice the amount Bush initially requested.

Administration officials have not indicated when or how the United States might avenge the terrorist attacks. Officials have said they want to take care that they correctly identify those responsible for the attacks.

"It's not like any other war the United States has ever had to fight," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, whose constituents bore the brunt of the attacks.

In many ways, the measure being considered by lawmakers is unnecessary.

Under the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973, Congress recognized a president's authority to use military force to respond to "a national emergency created by an attack upon the United States." In addition, most presidents since Harry S. Truman have claimed the power to use military force whenever necessary to protect American interests and safety.

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