- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Democrats, rebuked for their suggestions that President Bush had warning of the terrorist attacks, are showing solidarity with the president on national security.

From their warm reception of Mr. Bush's homeland security proposal last week to their enthusiasm for his plan to topple Saddam Hussein, congressional Democrats have changed their tone from only a few weeks ago. Back then, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York repeated a newspaper headline on the Senate floor by demanding, "Bush knew what?"

"It's difficult to remember in the past 30 years where Democrats have been so united around a hawkish foreign policy position," said Marshall Wittman, congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington. "They're moving significantly to the right."

So far to the right, in fact, that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in recent days has called on the administration to get tougher with Saudi Arabia on terrorism and for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to be replaced.

And Senate Republican sources said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi was surprised Friday, when Mr. Daschle took him up on his request to debate the defense-authorization bill this week.

"Democrats are severely hemorrhaging on national defense and homeland security," a Senate Republican leadership aide said. "They have a lot of ground to make up. This is going to dominate the election."

A senior Senate Democratic aide conceded that Democrats' recent hawkish comments on the Middle East "did demonstrate a certain nimbleness" so soon after their insinuations that Mr. Bush failed to act on warnings of the terrorist hijackings.

"Democrats are determined not to let the administration and Republicans outflank them to the extent possible on these issues," the staffer said, adding that lawmakers' clamoring for the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is "one of the most telling" examples.

Polls show that the Democrats have their work cut out for them. A Winston Group poll for House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma ago showed two weeks ago that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on national defense and fighting terrorism, 55 percent to 26 percent.

"The great fear of the Democrats is that they will be portrayed as modern-day McGovernites at a time when the American people are rallying behind the president and the war against terror," Mr. Wittman said. "Democrats realize that going into 2002 and 2004, their Achilles' heel is national security, and they did not want it to be exposed."

Stephen Hess, congressional analyst at the Brookings Institution, said Saddam is a no-risk target for Democrats who have been criticized for not standing with Mr. Bush.

"The pro-Saddam Hussein lobby in the United States hasn't shown its head lately," Mr. Hess said. "And Bush's popularity [rating] is still in the 70s, which is staggering. On these issues, if you're a politician, oppose the president at your risk."

A House Democratic leadership aide said Democrats simply agree with Mr. Bush's stance against Saddam and that it "helps that there's a united front in delivering that message."

"The public just generally wants to be more secure, and they'd just as soon we drop all the politics and try to get that done," the aide said.

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