Bush's 16 Words Keep Haunting Him

The House International Relations Committee last Thursday voted 24 to 19 to send to the House floor, "without recommendation," a resolution requiring President Bush to turn over documents relating to 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union Address. That actually killed the resolution. But the dead can rise again in Congress, and this corpse will.

Thursday’s vote marked the ninth time that Democrats had brought this matter before the International Relations Committee without success, and it will not be the last time. Democrats are obsessed with the president’s 16 words on Jan. 28, 2003, that reported British intelligence saying Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This is the cutting edge of the Democratic contention that George W. Bush lied his country into war.

Partisan warfare in the House of Representatives is encouraged by heightened Democratic hopes of winning control of the chamber for the first time since 1994. Repeated introduction in the International Relations and Armed Services committees of resolutions hectoring the president about the 2003 speech is intended to focus antiwar resentment against Bush and the Republicans.

The president’s trouble began with this statement: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." To investigate this, the CIA dispatched former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger. When I quoted administration sources as saying Wilson’s CIA employee wife suggested this mission, an investigation by a special prosecutor was launched and Democrats alleged there was a plot to hide the truth about going to war.

The latest form of their effort was a "privileged" resolution introduced by Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York calling on the president to give the House "all documents in his possession" relating to both the 2003 State of the Union and an Oct. 7, 2002, speech delivered in Cincinnati. The reason for requesting material from the earlier speech was to show that at Cincinnati the president did not mention yellow cake uranium (used to produce nuclear weapons) because the CIA allegedly had told him there was no truth to the claim. The implication is that Bush four months later brought up the uranium-hunt story to build support for war.

Under the rules of the House, the Republicans cannot simply ignore a "privileged" resolution. That would enable the resolution’s sponsors to bring it up on the House floor. Paradoxically, such resolutions must be voted on in committee to keep them off the floor.

The Hinchey resolution was debated for two hours by the International Relations Committee on Dec. 8. Rep. Brad Sherman of California amended it to make sure it would apply only to presidential documents "relevant to Iraq" and then misquoted Bush by telling his colleagues: "I think what we are trying simply to do is let the American people decide for themselves. … Find out what happened when our president said that Niger had the uranium things that caused this whole debate."

One problem with the Democratic attack is that in July 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that the intelligence community agreed that "Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa." Other than Sherman, committee members had little to say about the famous 16 words.

The other Democrats used their time to attack the Republican president and the Republican majority in Congress. "Nine times," said veteran Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, "this Republican majority has whitewashed the Republican administration’s lying to the American people." Chairman Henry Hyde responded by reading Ackerman’s floor speech of Oct. 8, 2002, asserting, "We know al-Qaida elements have already been at work soliciting Iraqi aid in this field."

The vote on Oct. 8 was on a motion to report "adversely" the Hinchey resolution. Rep. James Leach of Iowa, the committee’s second-ranking Republican and a critic of the Iraq intervention, voted "no," and two other Republicans did not vote. As a result, the vote failed 24 to 24.

The resolution was brought up again in committee last Thursday, this time to be reported "without recommendation." Leach passed his vote, and with several absentees, the motion carried, meaning the resolution was dead for now. Democrats are sure to try again in a campaign that may not be serious, but is persistent.