Senate Democrats Seek Another WMD Commission
Questioning the independence of a newly named White House commission investigating intelligence data, Democratic Senators will offer legislation this week to create a parallel panel that would examine whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the war.
The Democratic proposal would establish a 10-member commission to look into the pre-Iraq war intelligence and require the panel to report its findings to Congress no later than July — four months before voters head to the polls. The commission chartered by President Bush last week will not submit its report until March 31, 2005.
“I don’t think you have to wait until all aspects of the intelligence [probe] are done for the recommendations to come out,” said Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.), the author of the legislation and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Democrats have been critical of Bush’s decision to create a commission without first asking for their input about its composition. Corzine’s legislation calls for the commission to be evenly divided along party lines with Democrats and Republicans each choosing five members.
Democrats suggest the White House-chartered panel would not be able to properly investigate what role, if any, the president’s top advisers played in promoting the idea that Iraq was amassing weapons of mass destruction.
“It is a fig leaf proposal that provides a wee bit of cover to the president for his naked manipulation of pre-war intelligence,” said a Senate Democratic aide.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said in an interview last week that he would oppose the legislation.
Republican staffers quickly dismissed the Democratic proposal as an election-year ploy.
“It is unfortunate that the Democrats are playing partisan petty politics given the fact that our country is still at war and we are still vulnerable to future terrorist attacks,” said a Senate Republican leadership aide. “The president has clearly articulated the need for a bipartisan commission to look into the facts, and the Democrats want to do nothing but just play on people’s fears.”
After resisting pressure to form a panel to look into this alleged intelligence lapse, Bush did so last week and appointed former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) as its co-chairman. But the inclusion of Democrats on the commission has done little to mollify Democratic complaints, with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) describing the commission as “the fox sending a proxy to mind the chickens.”
“With all due respect to the individuals serving on the panel, I don’t have much faith in any commission that is appointed by the very people who are trying to shift the responsibility from themselves,” Byrd said in a statement released by his office.
Democrats acknowledge there is little hope the Republican-led Congress would approve the measure. Similar legislation introduced by Corzine in July 2003 failed along a party line vote as an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill.
Still, Democrats said they must use every legislative opportunity available to them in this election year to question Congressional Republicans’ decision to continue to support Bush’s decision to wage war against Iraq.
“We need to put these Republicans on record of opposing a comprehensive, thorough review of what happened,” said a senior Democratic staffer.
Already, Democrats are mapping out a plan that would send the Senate into executive session to debate how Congress should proceed with the investigation. Such a debate could possibly occur when the Senate returns from the President’s Day recess.
As for his proposal, Corzine said, “the American people won’t be satisfied until you have a truly independent commission.”