WASHINGTON - Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have repeatedly invoked the name of Senator Chuck Hagel, a longtime critic of the Iraq war, as they defend Mrs. Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize the war. In interviews and at a recent campaign event, they have said that Mr. Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, helped draft the resolution, which they said was proof that the measure was more about urging Saddam Hussein to comply with weapons inspections, instead of authorizing combat. Mrs. Clinton repeated the claim Sunday during an interview on "Meet the Press," saying "Chuck Hagel, who helped to draft the resolution, said it was not a vote for war."
"It was a vote to use the threat of force against Saddam Hussein, who never did anything without being made to do so," Mrs. Clinton said. But the talking point appears to misconstrue the facts. In October 2002, Mr. Hagel had in fact been working with Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, and Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, on drafting a resolution that would have authorized the war. But while those negotiations were under way, to the disappointment of some Congressional Democrats, the Bush administration circumvented their effort and reached a separate agreement with Representative Richard A. Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, then the House minority leader. That agreement resulted in a bill, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, now an independent, which was slightly less restrictive than the proposal that Mr. Hagel had been helping to develop. In the original proposal Mr. Hagel had backed, force was authorized only to secure the destruction of Iraq's unconventional weapons, not to enforce "all relevant" United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, which was the language in the version that ultimately passed.
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It was the White House proposal, not Mr. Hagel's, that Mrs. Clinton supported, explaining in an Oct. 10, 2002, speech on the Senate floor that it was time to tell Saddam Hussein that "this is your last chance - disarm or be disarmed." The repeated references to Mr. Hagel by the Clintons make it clear that they are trying to distance her from the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, by associating her with a persistent critic of the war. Bill Clinton has raised the claim at least twice, including in an April 2007 interview on "Larry King Live" and, most recently, at a campaign event in New Hampshire just before the Democratic primary there. "Chuck Hagel was one of the co-authors of that resolution, the only Republican Senator that always opposed the war, every day, from the get-go," Mr. Clinton said on Jan. 7. "He authored the resolution to say that Bush could go to war only if they didn't cooperate with the inspectors."
A spokesman for Mr. Hagel declined on Sunday to comment about the matter. In an interview published in GQ magazine in January 2007, Mr. Hagel said that he helped shape the course of the debate - even if it was not his resolution that ultimately passed. He said he helped convince the White House to narrow its request for authorization to go to war just to Iraq. Initially, the administration wanted Congress to approve a broad measure that would not have necessarily specified Iraq as the only target, potentially allowing action elsewhere in the Middle East. Phil Singer, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said Sunday that the statements by the senator and Mr. Clinton accurately reflected the role that Mr. Hagel played in the overall negotiations, even if it was not his bill that Congress voted on. "Senator Hagel not only played a key role in drafting the 2002 authorization," Mr. Singer said, "but has spoken about those efforts at length."
© 2008 The New York Times