Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said President Bush's plans to invade Iraq are a conscious effort to distract public attention from growing problems at home.
"This administration, all of a sudden, wants to go to war with Iraq," Byrd said. "The [political] polls are dropping, the domestic situation has problems.... So all of a sudden we have this war talk, war fervor, the bugles of war, drums of war, clouds of war.
"Don't tell me that things suddenly went wrong. Back in August, the president had no plans.... Then all of a sudden this country is going to war," Byrd told the Senate on Friday.
"Are politicians talking about the domestic situation, the stock market, weaknesses in the economy, jobs that are being lost, housing problems? No."
Byrd warned of another Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Passed on Aug. 7, 1964, that resolution handed President Lyndon Johnson broad powers to escalate the war in Vietnam, a conflict that cost 58,202 American lives and millions of Asian lives.
"Congress will be putting itself on the sidelines," Byrd told the Senate. "Nothing would please this president more than having such a blank check handed to him."
Byrd said his belief in the Constitution will prevent him from voting for Bush's war resolution. "But I am finding that the Constitution is irrelevant to people of this administration."
Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., both praised Byrd after he spoke.
"It is the height of patriotism to ask such hard questions," Clinton said. "No one exemplifies that more than the senior senator from West Virginia."
Byrd said, "Before the nation is committed to war, before we send our sons and daughters to battle in faraway lands, there are critical questions that must be asked. To date, the answers from the administration have been less than satisfying."
Byrd repeatedly said Bush has failed to give members of Congress any evidence about any immediate danger from Iraq. Byrd also criticized his speech to the United Nations.
"Instead of offering compelling evidence that the Iraqi regime had taken steps to advance its weapons program, the president offered the U.N. more of a warning than an appeal for support.
"Instead of using the forum of the U.N. General Assembly to offer evidence and proof of his claims, the president basically told the nations of the world that you are either with me, or against me," Byrd said.
"We must not be hell-bent on an invasion until we have exhausted every other possible option to assess and eliminate Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction program. We must not act alone. We must have the support of the world."
Byrd said Congress needs solid evidence and answers to several specific questions, including:
Byrd said the proposed resolution Bush sent Congress on Thursday would be the "broadest possible grant of war powers to any president in the history of our Republic. The resolution is a direct insult and an affront to the powers given to Congress."
Byrd also criticized Bush's request for power to carry out "pre-emptive attacks" and send troops to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, the West Bank and anywhere else in the Middle East.
"I cannot believe the gall and the arrogance of the White House in requesting such a broad grant of war powers," Byrd said. "This is the worst kind of election-year politics."