- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The pointed questions Condoleezza Rice faced about Iraq this week from both parties, coming just a week after Alberto Gonzales faced similar questions about the domestic side of the war on terrorism, show a Congress eager for answers about where the war effort stands.

“Please do me a favor: Start to tell the whole deal,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said yesterday during Miss Rice’s second day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.

Republicans were just as direct, both to Miss Rice and to Mr. Gonzales.

During the Gonzales hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told him the Justice Department had “cut corners” and “did a lousy job” in writing up standards for treatment of detainees.

It was the first time senators had two key architects of the Bush administration’s domestic and international war on terror before them. Neither Miss Rice, as national security adviser, nor Mr. Gonzales, as chief counsel to the president, had been legally subject to being called before Congress.

“This is a very unusual confirmation process because it comes in the midst of a war. And certainly, as a president makes a transition to the second term, and as he names a team that helps him manage this war, it is perfectly appropriate to take stock of what has transpired in the first four years, where are we and what is ahead,” said P.J. Crowley, director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Both Mr. Gonzales, President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, and Miss Rice, his choice for secretary of state, are facing temporary hurdles to confirmation by the full Senate.

Judiciary Committee Democrats asked that the panel vote on Mr. Gonzales be held over until next week — a common occurrence under that committee’s rules.

Republicans had expected Senate confirmation of Miss Rice today, after the inauguration, but found out yesterday afternoon that Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, would block the vote until next week in order to study the transcript of her hearing.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, called the delay on Miss Rice a bad start.

“Petty partisan maneuvers are not helpful in the advancement of a unified effort to pursue freedom for Iraq and other nations around the world,” said Mr. Allen, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

But Democrats on both committees have predicted the nominees will eventually be confirmed, and several top Democratic Senate aides said there is no concerted strategy to use them to send a signal to the administration.

“This is just utilizing advise and consent,” said one aide, referring to the constitutional role of senators in confirming presidential nominations.

Mr. Crowley said it appeared to him that “Democrats are largely saving their heaviest ammunition for the Supreme Court,” where both sides expect retirements during Mr. Bush’s second term.

“I don’t think they have taken an obstructionist tone. In fact, I think on balance they have taken a constructive tone, primarily because these are difficult issues,” Mr. Crowley said. “The war on terror is unprecedented. We are doing things for the first time. Some things are going well; some things aren’t going well.”

Among the more direct questioners of Miss Rice was Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran against Mr. Bush in last year’s presidential election.

David Wade, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said the senator’s questions and statements were simply an extension of the argument Mr. Kerry was making during the presidential campaign.

As for Democrats as a whole, Mr. Wade said, “There’s a refusal to lay down in the fetal position.”

“The bottom line is that there was no mandate on Nov. 2 for endless unilateralism and a stubborn continuation of the policies that have gotten us into this situation in Iraq,” he said.

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