Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The New Congress

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The New Congress

Article excerpt

The Gulf Crisis

Normally, the 102nd Congress would officially convene on Jan. 3, and then recess until President Bush's State-of-the-Union address later in the month. But given the uncertain situation in the Persian Gulf, particularly with the looming Jan. 15 UN deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, Congress may remain in session this month. In fact, proposals surfaced on Capitol Hill last month for a full debate of the Gulf crisis immediately following the convening of the 102nd Congress.

In many respects, the debate actually began last month, as four committees held hearings on the Iraq crisis. The most comprehensive hearings were organized by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), one of the most influential Democrats in the Senate. Nunn used the lengthy hearings to make the case that the administration had not given the international sanctions imposed on Iraq enough time to be effective.

Other hearings were convened by the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Armed Services Committees, and the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.

Special Session

For a time last month there was even talk of calling a special session of Congress to discuss the Gulf crisis, particularly following the UN Security Council's 12-2 vote backing the use of force against Iraq. Among those supporting this idea, albeit for differing reasons, were Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a critic of the administration's Gulf policy.

Dole and Lugar argued that a special session of Congress was needed to consider, and adopt, a measure similar to the UN resolution backing the use of force against Iraq. On the other hand, Kennedy backed the special session as a means of showing Democratic dissatisfaction with the administration's policy. Notwithstanding this high-powered support, the idea quickly fizzled.

The Leadership

The leadership that will guide the new Congress through this crisis and, in all likelihood, for the coming two years, is essentially unchanged from the last Congress. Sen. George Mitchell (D-ME) and Rep. Thomas Foley (D-WA) have been reelected as Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, respectively. Similarly, Dole and Rep. Robert Michel (R-IL) have again been tapped to lead the Republicans in the Senate and House, respectively.

The only notable change in the leadership of the two chambers occurred in the Senate, where Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA) relinquished his post as Majority Whip, the second ranking position in the Democratic hierarchy. …

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