- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

As Republicans patch up their differences over how to handle the terrorism suspects held at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they are turning their sights on Democrats in time for the November elections.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell on Friday took issue with Minority Leader Harry Reid over his comments earlier in the week that Democrats were “on the sidelines watching the catfights” among Republicans on terrorism legislation.

“The minority leader indicated that they were sitting on the sidelines during our internal discussion about how best to craft this proposal,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters gathered in his office. “I don’t think sitting on the sidelines in the war on terror is a good idea. We have to have as much bipartisan cooperation as possible.”

In the wake of last week’s deal among Republicans on how to try terrorism suspects, Democrats also sought to gain a political foothold before the November elections.

“Democrats are united behind the need to work on a bipartisan basis to bring terrorists to justice and to do it in a manner consistent with our laws, our values and our national security,” Mr. Reid said last week as news spread that a deal had been reached.

“Hopefully, today’s press conference means that President Bush and the congressional Republican leadership have changed course and listened to numerous national security experts, such as General Colin Powell,” he said. “Five years after 9/11, it is time to make the tough and smart decisions to give the American people the real security they deserve.”

But in the sure-to-be hectic final week before Congress adjourns for the elections, fissures remain between the parties and also among Republicans.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert wants to include this week in the must-pass defense funding bill the Community Protection Act, aimed at deporting members of criminal alien gangs. In addition, the Illinois Republican wants to include bipartisan court-security measures passed in the wake of last year’s retaliatory slaying of Chicago federal Judge Joan Lefkow’s family.

“The speaker is not going to let the bill move until these critical security items get in,” said Ron Bonjean, Mr. Hastert’s spokesman.

But despite bipartisan support that includes Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the court-security provisions aren’t going anywhere, a Republican leadership aide said. At the request of Democrats on the Armed Services Committee, Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, won’t include the measure, the Republican said.

“Senator Warner is kowtowing to liberal Democrats who are rolling over Durbin’s ability to get it done,” a House GOP leadership aide said. “It looks like Senator Durbin doesn’t have the juice to control his own Democrats so we can protect our nation’s judges.”

Mr. Warner’s spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Regardless of what Republicans accomplish in this final week, Mr. McConnell dismissed Democrat charges that this has been a “do-nothing” Congress. This, he said Friday, is the “most accomplished Congress in the 22 years that I’ve been here.” And he said he’s not worried about November’s contest.

“This election will not just be about us. It will be a choice — a choice between us and them,” Mr. McConnell said. “A lot of Americans have forgotten what Democrats do when they’re in the majority. We’re going to remind them. They’ll retreat in the war on terror, they’ll raise taxes, and they’ll impeach the president.”

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