Senate Rejects Panel On Prewar Iraq Data
- [Two reports]
New York Times
July 17, 2003
Senate Rejects Panel On Prewar Iraq Data
By Carl Hulse
WASHINGTON, July 16 The Republican-led Senate defeated an effort tonight to establish a bipartisan panel to examine the use of intelligence in the prelude to the Iraq war. The vote came as Democrats pressed the Bush administration on the rationale for the war as well as on the long-term costs of military operations.
The vote also came on a day when George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, was questioned for nearly five hours behind closed doors by the Senate Intelligence Committee about his agency's handling of intelligence and as senior Democrats stepped up their criticism of the administration's Iraq policies.
At the center of the debate was a statement by President Bush in his State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Africa to restart its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Tenet told lawmakers that he had not read Mr. Bush's speech when the White House sent it to him to review beforehand, government officials said. Administration officials have acknowledged that the information about Iraq's nuclear efforts was unsubstantiated. Democrats said that despite Mr. Tenet's willingness to take the blame for the statement in the speech, Mr. Bush is the one ultimately responsible.
"George Tenet has accepted his responsibility," said Senator John Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, a member of the intelligence panel and a presidential candidate. "But at the end of the day, the president, when he speaks, has to take responsibility for what he says."
On the Senate floor, the debate over Iraq was partisan and pointed.
"The American people want to know how long their sons and daughters are going to be shot at in Iraq," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. "How long? And what's the policy? And why?"
Lawmakers rejected on a 51-to-45 vote the proposal by Senator Jon Corzine, Democrat of New Jersey, to create an independent 12-member commission with a broad mandate to examine questions like whether Iraq possessed so-called weapons of mass destruction, had links to Al Qaeda or had tried to buy uranium in Africa. The administration had used such arguments in its case for war.
"Simply put, the nation's credibility, in my view, is at stake," Mr. Corzine said.
Republicans lashed out at the proposal as politically motivated, with Senator Ted Stevens, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, deriding it as the start of the 2004 campaign. "This isn't Watergate," Mr. Stevens said dismissively about the intelligence controversy. "This is an attempt to smear the president of the United States."
He and other Republicans said that any commission should come after intelligence panels in the House and Senate as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee completed their own reviews. The Republicans also argued that any commission was ill-timed, because troops were still in the field.
Democrats, after struggling for months to find a way to challenge Mr. Bush on his Iraq policy, are trying to take advantage of the recent admission by the White House that the uranium claim should not have been included in the speech.
Nearly all the Democratic presidential candidates criticized Mr. Bush on the issue this week, and the party today sought to turn consideration of the military spending measure into a proxy fight over the administration's handling of the war.
Republicans beat back a series of pointed amendments by Democrats to the $369 billion measure. The critics said the bill was flawed because it contained no money next year for operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan, though the administration recently said the effort in Iraq was costing $3.9 billion a month while the estimate for Afghanistan was about $900 million a month.
"I think we have a responsibility here in the Congress to try to understand how much these operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other areas of the world are costing us and how we plan for that and how we pay for that," said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota.
Mr. Stevens, who led the Republicans in holding off the Democrats, said the Iraq operations were still being financed out of an emergency $62 billion allocation made this year. Republicans said the administration would make a separate request for money later this year when the financial needs were definitively known and the expense could be less.
"It is impossible to know what the costs will be of fighting a war in advance," said Mr. Stevens, who said the nation historically paid for combat operations in this fashion.
Democrats say the administration is not being forthright about the war costs, suggesting that it did not want to endanger public support for the effort by detailing its expense at a time of rising deficit figures.
The Senate voted 53 to 41 to block the effort by Mr. Dorgan to require the administration to add a cost projection to the Pentagon bill.
Lawmakers voted 50 to 45 against a proposal by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, to require the administration to report monthly on the war's costs, the manpower involved, the level of participating foreign troops and international aid, casualties and rebuilding contracts in excess of $10 million.
A proposal by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, to require more disclosure about those being held as unlawful combatants was also turned back by the Senate.
Mr. Kennedy lost in his effort to require the administration to report within 30 days on the efforts to involve more nations in Iraq. He said a broader coalition could help stabilize the country and lessen the risks for American troops.
Despite occasionally angry debate, the Pentagon measure is expected to be adopted overwhelmingly as early as Thursday to demonstrate strong backing for the armed forces.
July 17, 2003
Senate Rebuffs Democrats' Moves To Challenge Bush On Iraq
By Helen Dewar, Washington Post Staff Writer
Senate Republicans yesterday held the line against Democratic efforts to challenge President Bush over Iraq, rejecting initiatives to internationalize postwar operations and to create a commission to probe how intelligence was used -- or misused -- to justify going to war.
The GOP-controlled Senate also defeated two Democratic proposals to force the administration to spell out the anticipated costs of continuing military operations in Iraq.
The showdowns came as Democrats stepped up their attacks on prewar intelligence failures and postwar efforts to bring stability to Iraq, prompting a week of controversy that will culminate today with an address by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's closest ally in the war, to a joint meeting of Congress.
The Senate's consideration of a $368.6 billion spending bill for the Pentagon next year presented Democrats with an opening for initiatives dealing with Iraq, and they seized it, winning a forum for criticizing the administration even though they had little success on what turned out to be largely party-line votes.
The move to involve the United Nations and NATO in efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq was defeated, 52 to 43, after a heated debate during which Republicans accused the Democrats of trying to dictate to Bush how to carry out his role as commander in chief.
The proposal, offered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), would have asked Bush to submit a report to Congress within 30 days on a timetable for seeking NATO participation in Iraq and for U.N. Security Council authorization for a multinational security force, including NATO troops.
"Even President Bush is now saying that rebuilding Iraq will be a massive and long-term undertaking," Kennedy said. "What we need most now is to share at least some of the burden with the international community."
But Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said the amendment treads dangerously on presidential prerogatives. "We don't have the power to tell the commander in chief what to do," he said.
The proposal for an independent, bipartisan commission to look into Iraq-related intelligence was offered by Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.) and was rejected, 51 to 45.
The congressionally appointed commission would have looked into the administration's stated justifications for war, including Bush's statement in his State of the Union speech in January that the British had "learned" Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa. The administration recently said it should not have made the claim.
"Each day we have failed to have an accounting . . . about what really happened," Corzine said. But Stevens said intelligence reviews are already underway in House and Senate committees, and he angrily opposed the proposal as an "attempt to smear the president of the United States."
On the first of two amendments dealing with war costs, the Senate voted 53 to 41, largely along party lines, to reject a proposal by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) to require the administration to submit a budget revision reflecting the anticipated costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year.
The defense bill does not include war costs, which are likely to be covered by an emergency spending bill later in the fiscal year, the way this year's war costs were funded. Officials have said current costs are running $3.9 billion a month.
Dorgan acknowledged it may be impossible to pin down the exact cost of future operations but said estimates can be made. "We know the answer is not zero," he said.
But Stevens opposed the plan, saying wars have never been financed in advance, and "we shouldn't start now." Congress has already rejected the idea of a contingency war fund out of fear it would give the Pentagon a "blank check" to spend as it pleases.
A second proposal to force more cost accounting for the war, offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would have called for reports to Congress every 30 days on costs, personnel levels, contributions by other countries and international organizations, casualty figures, and all contracts in excess of $10 million for the reconstruction of Iraq. It was rejected, 50 to 45.
The Senate also rejected a proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that would have required the administration to disclose how it intends to deal with terrorism suspects being detained by the government.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), speaking in New York yesterday, escalated his criticism of the administration, accusing it of leaving the United States ill-prepared to prevent terrorist attacks, and charging that Bush's State of the Union address "trafficked in untruth" when some administration officials knew it was wrong.
The Democratic presidential candidate stopped short of accusing Bush of not telling the truth about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, but he said the administration "gave presidential sanction to misleading information and is still trying to conceal what happened." He called for an independent commission to find the truth about what had happened.
Kerry also said that Bush has left the United States with a "preparedness gap" on homeland security. "It is clear that a dangerous gap in credibility has developed between President Bush's tough rhetoric and timid policies, which don't do nearly enough to protect Americans from danger," Kerry said in the text of his prepared speech. "It's time we were told the truth about America's safety."
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.