WASHINGTON -- Months of simmering unease over U.S. involvement in Somalia boiled over in bipartisan outrage yesterday as lawmakers across the political spectrum demanded that President Clinton bring the troops home.
Appalled by pictures of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and a bruised, captured helicopter pilot being interrogated, members of Congress vented the frustration of constituents. "We went in to save their dying children, and now they parade the slain bodies of our youth," said Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida, one of nearly two dozen House members who took the floor yesterday to demand that U.S. forces be withdrawn immediately. "I cannot accept any more killing."
"It's Vietnam all over again," said Sen. Fritz Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat who has been pushing since July for a speedy departure from Somalia. "There's no education in the second kick."
As House and Senate members prepared a new round of legislative maneuvers aimed at forcing the president to bring a quick end to the mission, the administration sought to cool passions by inviting the entire Congress to an unusual briefing on Somalia.
More than 200 lawmakers attended the standing-room-only session conducted by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, but many said it left them with more questions than ever.
"There was a lot of discontent in the room with where we are and what was offered," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio said: "I didn't learn anything. It was a disappointing report. . . . I had hoped for more."
Most of those at the meeting used the opportunity to let the administration know what they think of the Somalia effort.
"Clearly, the Congress is very sharply divided on this," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, who promised both houses would have a full debate on the question of whether U.S. troops should remain in Somalia.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat who has been trying since early September to cut off funds for the Somalia operation, is expected to try to push for a vote on that issue as soon as today.
Before last weekend, Mr. Byrd had agreed to accept a compromise, also approved by the House, that gave Mr. Clinton until Oct. 15 to present a detailed report to Congress on his vision of the Somalia mission, and until Nov. 15 before Congress would be required to approve a continuing U.S. presence there.
With sentiment on the Somalia mission souring rapidly, however, Mr. Byrd plans to offer his amendment to cut off funds for the mission today or tomorrow, when the Senate considers the defense appropriations bill.
Bob Dole, the Senate Republican leader, who has also been urging a withdrawal of U.S. troops, said yesterday that the taking of prisoners has complicated the situation.
"It's a big, big, decision," Mr. Dole said. "But it seems to me that if the president will tell us precisely what the plan is, how do we get out, when do we get out, how do we protect American forces, then I think the Congress in a bipartisan way will support that effort."
At yesterday's briefing, the administration's initial goal, officials said, was to give the lawmakers short-term answers for constituents demanding to know why U.S. troops are still in Somalia long after the humanitarian mission described by former President George Bush seemed to have been completed.
"The troops are definitely restless," said a House Democratic leadership aide. But with few questions answered yesterday, senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers who favor giving Mr. Clinton enough leeway to set his own policy on Somalia said he needs to articulate it for them before the Oct. 15 deadline.
"I'm not for cutting and running," said Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. "Just because we had a bad week, I don't think that's a reason to leave. But it's the absence of any discernible end of this that has people so upset."
For example, the goal of "nation-building" endorsed by the United Nations was roundly ridiculed yesterday as a hopeless task that the United States has no business taking on.
"There is no way we can do any nation-building with tanks," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who was opposed to the mission from the start because, "It's so easy to go in, so hard to get out."