- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly condemned the liberal anti-war group MoveOn.org for its newspaper ad that last week accused the top U.S. general in Iraq of lying and misrepresenting the situation on the ground, a measure on which Democratic leaders had refused to allow a vote last week.

The nonbinding measure, offered by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, passed by a vote of 72-25, with 24 Democrats and one independent, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, voting against it.

The furor over the ad (download pdf), which Republicans up to and including President Bush have denounced, has not subsided since it ran last week. It again placed Democrats on the defensive yesterday, and both House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio yesterday called for a similar resolution in the lower chamber.

“Denouncing this unconscionable assault on Gen. David Petraeus‘ integrity in a bipartisan manner would signal to the American people that these tactics have no place in our political discourse,” Mr. Blunt said.

Mr. Boehner also urged House Democratic leaders “to immediately schedule a vote … to condemn the despicable attacks launched against this honorable man by a radical left-wing political organization.”

But House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, declined to commit to any such measure.

The president got involved in the furor yesterday, calling the MoveOn ad “disgusting” at a White House press conference.

“I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democratic Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad,” Mr. Bush said. “And that leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org — or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.”

While 22 of the 49 Senate Democrats voted yesterday to condemn the ad, none of the four with White House ambitions did.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the Democratic presidential front-runner, voted against the Senate measure, as did Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Barack Obama of Illinois skipped the vote, which the latter denounced as an effort to score “cheap political points,” adding that the Senate should focus on ending the war, “not on criticizing newspaper advertisements.”

“By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against this empty politics,” Mr. Obama said.

The amendment to the Defense Authorization bill gave general praise to the U.S. military and Gen. Petraeus and also “specifically repudiate• the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group MoveOn.org.”

MoveOn, which began a decade ago as an effort to fight the impeachment of President Clinton and has morphed into a key part of the Democratic Party’s “netroots,” said Gen. Petraeus is distorting statistics from Iraq to give the false appearance that violence is decreasing as a result of the president’s surge of 30,000 troops earlier this year.

The MoveOn ad ran in the Sept. 10 edition of the New York Times, on the morning of congressional testimony by Gen. Petraeus.

“General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” the full-page ad said, and accused the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq of “cooking the books for the White House.”

Mr. Cornyn said that “for MoveOn.org and their left-wing allies to brand General Petraeus a traitor and a liar crossed a historic line of decency.”

Eli Pariser, MoveOn’s executive director, shot back at the president in a statement soon after the press conference, calling it “disgusting … that the president has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war.”

Mr. Pariser said Mr. Bush “lied repeatedly to the American people to get us into the war” and accused the president of betraying the U.S. military and the American people.

In an e-mail to supporters after the Senate vote, MoveOn denounced it as meaningless posturing and promised a counterattack ad in the coming days against Republicans who “blocked a bill to give our troops adequate family leave before going back to Iraq.”

“This morning, the Senate didn’t pass an exit strategy for Iraq. They didn’t pass a bill to cover millions of uninsured Americans or combat the climate crisis. Instead, they condemned MoveOn.org,” the letter said, exhorting its recipients to fund the new ad buy.

The president’s strong comments about MoveOn dovetailed with Mr. Cornyn’s amendment to create the appearance of a coordinated Republican public-relations offensive. Less than two hours after the president’s comments, the Senate voted on the Cornyn amendment, which the Texan offered last week but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

However, a Republican Senate aide said that there was no coordination between the White House and the Senate Republicans and that Mr. Cornyn had already planned to bring up the amendment yesterday. A Democratic aide verified this.

The Senate Republican aide, however, said that timing of the president’s comments was “serendipitous.”

The MoveOn ad sparked an instant backlash last week by Republicans on Capitol Hill, causing even aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to remark that they wished the ad had not run.

News reports also revealed last week that the New York Times has sold the full-page ad space to MoveOn at a discount rate, slashing their regular rate of $181,692 to $65,000. Republican presidential nominee Rudolph W. Giuliani demanded — and got — the same rate for an ad he ran defending Gen. Petraeus last Friday.

Christina Bellantoni, S.A. Miller and Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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