Congressional Democrats critical of the Bush administration's stance on Iraq pleaded Friday for more time for diplomacy, while senior Republicans agreed with the president that the countdown to a possible war is nearing an end.
The exchange played out mainly on the Senate floor in a sparsely attended debate over Iraq policy. Some lawmakers made their views known in speeches elsewhere and through news releases.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- who opposed the October resolution the Senate approved, 77 to 23, that authorized President Bush to use force against Iraq -- took to the floor to note that U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix on Friday reported some progress in the effort to verify disarmament by Saddam Hussein's regime.
Kennedy credited Bush for the pressure he has exerted on Hussein. "But it's time for this president and this White House to pause before pushing aside the rest of the world and ordering an invasion of Iraq," Kennedy said. "Rash action will only place our troops in greater harm's way."
Republicans, who for months have been virtually united behind Bush's Iraq policy, countered that Hussein has squandered his chance to avoid an invasion.
"We are fast approaching that moment of reckoning with Saddam Hussein," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). "If he were to voluntarily disarm, it would be welcome. But he will not."
"Time is not on our side," said Senate Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.). "The price of inaction is far greater than the price of action."
As has been the case since the October debate, Democrats appeared more torn over the issue than Republicans.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who backed the use-of-force resolution, said he would vote for it again if he had the chance. But he said the threat of military action should be twinned with patient diplomacy to achieve a peaceful solution.
"The Bush administration, at this particular juncture, has not made a persuasive enough case yet that the U.N. system has totally failed," Dodd said. He added: "We ought not jump to war without giving this opportunity a chance to work a bit longer."
The October resolution passed the House, 296 to 133, with Democrats split on the measure. That division again was reflected Friday
"My position has not changed," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who opposed the October resolution.
"I do not believe that going to war now is the best way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," Pelosi said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "Before going to war, we must exhaust all alternatives, such as the continuation of inspections, diplomacy and the leverage provided by the threat of military action."
Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, one of the House Democrats who supported the resolution, urged Congress to stand behind Bush.
"As we move forward, I hope that our leaders -- both in Congress and the administration -- speak with one voice so that our allies and our foes around the world understand the resolve of the American people," Frost said in a news release.