U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., spoke out on the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday against unilateral U.S. action against Iraq. Wellstone says he will vote "no" on the use-of-force resolution the White House is requesting. Republican leaders say it's a dangerous vote for Wellstone, who's in a tough re-election race with Republican Norm Coleman. Coleman supports the White House.
Wellstone has been saying for weeks the U.S. should not take action against Iraq alone. In deciding to vote against the resolution, Wellstone places himself, once again, in the minority in Congress.
Wellstone took an opportunity prior to the beginning of the formal Senate debate on Iraq to announce his decision. Standing on the Senate floor, Wellstone suggested he's not alone in his concerns about the direction the nation is heading.
"Despite a desire to support our president, I believe many Americans still have profound questions about the wisdom of relying too heavily on a pre-emptive go-it-alone military approach," Wellstone said. "Acting now on our own might be a sign of our power. Acting sensibly, in a measured way in concert with our allies, with bipartisan Congressional support, would be a sign of our strength."
For 15 minutes Wellstone made his case. He said if Congress authorizes unilateral action, as members are expected to, and if the the president decides to use force irrespective of the United Nations stance, the U.S. could lose valuable international support for the war against terrorism.
"I believe many Americans still have profound questions about the wisdom of relying too heavily on a pre-emptive go-it-alone military approach. Acting now on our own might be a sign of our power. Acting sensibly, in a measured way in concert with our allies, with bipartisan congressional support, would be a sign of our strength."
- U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone
Wellstone also talked about the potential for loss of life, both U.S. and Iraqi, and about how war with Iraq could further harm the U.S. econmoy.
Wellstone offered the following alternatives to what the president wants.
"First and foremost, the United States must work with our allies to deal with Iraq. Second, our effort should have the goal of disarming Saddam Hussein of all of his weapons of mass destruction. Third, weapons inspections should be enforceable," Wellstone said. "If efforts by United Nations weapons inspectors are tried and fail, a range of potential U.N.-sanctioned means, including proportionate military force, should be considered. Finally, our approach toward Iraq must be consistent international law."
Wellstone is in a tight re-election race with Republican Norm Coleman, who says Congress should back the president by passing the use-of-force resolution Wellstone is opposing. Coleman, in Washington for a fundraiser, says he's not questioning Wellstone's patriotism, but his judgment, on the matter.
"Senator Wellstone is willing to put the security interest of the United States in the hands of the United Nations. Let them lead," Coleman said. "He's refusing to join in a broad bipartisan effort through Congress - Senate, House, the president all working together - saying that we will be prepared to defend the national security of the United States."
"Senator Wellstone is willing to put the security interest of the United States in the hands of the United Nations. "
- Wellstone's Republican opponent, Norm Coleman
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll released in early September found 54 percent of Minnesotans think the U.S. should attack Iraq. But 75 percent think President Bush should not act without congressional approval.
In the parking lot of a suburban St. Paul shopping center, those who agreed to answer questions said Congress should back the president.
"I am behind the president 100 percent. Whatever he chooses, I choose," said Heidi Lovro.
Lovro says she's not a Wellstone supporter and that she thinks the senator's decision hurts his re-election chances.
Mary Ann Johnson also disagrees with Wellstone. But Johnson says she thinks voters will respect Wellstone for doing what he feels is right, regardless of potential political consequences.
"If he's standing up for what he thinks, I think it will be OK. I think a lot of people support him," Johnson said.
Wellstone says he doesn't know how Minnesotans will react to his decision to vote against the resolution. But he says he could not in good conscience vote any other way.
"Do I think about this decision in terms of how it effects the election? Of course. But ultimately, what I have to do is make this decision in the most honest way I can, about what I think is best, and that's what I've done," Wellstone said.
Final votes in the House and Senate on the use-of-force resolution are not expected until at least next week.