Originally created 10/11/00

Gore put politics over principle in Gulf War vote



AL GORE'S new campaign ad is running across the country now and says he is "fighting for us." But the true story of his Gulf War vote in January 1991 says he is usually fighting for Al. Here is the inside story of what happened.

The Gulf War vote was pretty serious business. I can't think of anyone who didn't have a lump in his or her throat while weighing the situation: 500,000 Americans troops already deployed; Saddam Hussein promising the "mother of all battles"; most "experts" predicting heavy American losses.

The choice was not an easy one. Senators with combat experience on both sides of the aisle were on both sides of the issue. Some Democrats openly supported the measure; some Republicans openly opposed it. And vice versa.

The seriousness of the situation called for open, honest debate. No deal-making. No cajoling. No politics. Just an honest discussion, followed by an honest vote of conscience by each senator. As Republican whip, I worked with the Republican leader, Bob Dole, and the Democratic leaders, George Mitchell and Sam Nunn, to schedule the debate. As Republicans, Dole and I were responsible for scheduling time to speak for senators who supported the war. As Democrats, Mitchell and Nunn were responsible for scheduling time to speak for those who opposed the war.

THE NIGHT before this monumental debate, I sat in the Republican cloakroom with Dole. The mood was somber. The tension was palpable. We were on the verge of sending troops to war. Our national credibility was on the line. Would America stand up to tyranny and aggression in the Middle East? This was not some issue to be taken lightly.

As Dole and I discussed the debate schedule for the next day, a senator walked into our cloakroom and asked to speak to us. The senator's appearance and request surprised Dole and me. It surprised us because the senator was a Democrat, coming to ask for a favor. Who was that man?

It was Tennessee Sen. Al Gore Jr.

Gore got right to the point: "How much time will you give me if I support the president?" In layman's terms, Gore was asking how much debate time we would be willing to give him to speak on the floor if he voted with us. "How much time will the Democrats give you?" Dole asked in response.

"Seven minutes," came the droning response.

"I'll give you 15 minutes," Dole said.

"And I'll give you five of mine, so you can have 20 minutes," I offered. Gore seemed pleased, but made no final commitment, promising only to think it over.

GORE PLAYED hard to get. He had received his time. But now he wanted prime time. And Dole and I knew it.

After Gore left, Dole asked Howard Greene, the Republican Senate secretary, to call Gore's office and promise that he would try to schedule Gore's 20 minutes during prime time, thus ensuring plenty of coverage in the news cycle.

Later that night, Gore called Greene and asked if Dole had scheduled him for a prime-time speaking slot. When Green said nothing had been finalized yet, Gore erupted. "Damnit, Howard! If I don't get 20 minutes tomorrow I'm going to vote the other way."

The following day, Gore arrived on the Senate floor with, I always thought, two speeches in hand. Gore was still waiting to see which side - Republicans or Democrats - would offer him the most and the best speaking time. Dole immediately asked the Senate to increase the amount of speaking time for both sides. I believe only then, after Gore realized we were asking for more time to make room for him on our side, that he finally decided to support the resolution authorizing the use of force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

IT BRINGS me no joy to recount the events leading up to the Gulf War vote. It isn't something I wanted to do. But it is something I have to do. I was there.

I have to set the record straight because the Gore campaign is now running an ad proclaiming that Gore "broke with his own party to support the Gulf War." In reality, it's much closer to the truth to say he broke for the cameras to support the Gulf War.

And I have to set the record straight because the Gulf War vote was far too important an issue to fall victim to politics and repulsive revisionism. It was a moment of challenge, and sadly, Al Gore was not up to it.

As a member of the United States Senate for 18 years, I saw many senators show their stuff when times got tough. And, sadly, I saw some who failed to rise to the occasion. In January 1991, Al Gore put politics over principle.

(Editor's note: The author is the former Republican U.S. senator from Wyoming.)