- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday accused President Bush of politicizing the debate over Iraq and demanded an apology in an emotional speech on the Senate floor.
Mr. Daschle excoriated the president for saying on Monday that the Senate is "not interested in the security of the American people."
"He ought to apologize to the American people," Mr. Daschle said, his voice growing husky with emotion. "That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death."
But Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, yesterday defended the Bush administration against the charge of using the threat of war with Iraq as a political tool.
"I don't want to assume a president as commander in chief would take action relating to war the lives of Americans for political reasons. I reject that," he said, reiterating similar remarks he made Tuesday.
However, the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate did not criticize Mr. Daschle directly and said he understood why Mr. Daschle made those comments.
"The atmosphere has been made more partisan and divisive than it should, and so I hope Senator Daschle in his statement, [which] was quite sincere, will bring all of us back together to focus on the security of the country in a bipartisan fashion," he said. "Hopefully, we will see this as a blowing of the whistle that leads to a lowering of voices on all sides."
Asked by a reporter whether he was politicizing the issue, Mr. Bush was unapologetic.
"You may try to politicize it," the president said in the Oval Office. "I view it as my main obligation that is, to protect the American people. It's the most important job this president will have, and it's the most important job future presidents will have."
Republicans swiftly criticized Mr. Daschle's speech.
Both Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer pointed out that the president was talking about the Senate's failure to pass a homeland security bill, not national security in general or a war with Iraq in particular.
Mr. Lott said "that's a very important and I think critical difference" and added that he was "shocked and even horrified" at Mr. Daschle's "shrill rhetoric."
Pressed by reporters over whether he was taking the president's quote out of context, Mr. Daschle shrugged off the difference between the homeland defense bill and national security.
"This is an issue that has repercussions regardless of whether you're talking about homeland defense or national security," Mr. Daschle said. He called the president's remarks "truly outrageous and over the top."
"Don't lecture us about national security," he added. "Don't minimize, don't underestimate, don't devalue, don't politicize the contributions made by people who care deeply about this country."
Mr. Daschle gave his Senate-floor speech flanked by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, a World War II veteran who lost an arm in that war, and he specifically cited the veterans in the Democratic caucus as justifying his demand for an apology.
"You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they're not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous, outrageous," the South Dakota Democrat said.
"The president ought to apologize to Senator Inouye and every veteran who has fought in every war who is a Democrat in the Senate," he said. Mr. Daschle himself served in the intelligence wing of the U.S. Air Force during the latter stages of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, but he never saw combat.
Mr. Daschle's comments reflect a growing frustration among Democrats who believe the focus on national security issues such as Iraq will help Republicans in the midterm elections. Democrats have been trying to shift the focus to the faltering economy.
But former Vice President Al Gore torpedoed that strategy Monday, when he gave a major speech criticizing the president's call for action against Iraq. The speech has served to reignite the debate among Democrats, exposing a rift between Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman, who supports the Republican president's tough stance on Iraq.
Eager to quell this debate and put the president on the defensive, Mr. Daschle strode to the Senate floor while about 30 of his Democratic colleagues were in their seats an unusual occurrence in a chamber that is largely empty during most speeches. Several gave congratulatory handshakes to Mr. Daschle as he left the floor.
Mr. Daschle then yielded to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who brandished a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution.
"This administration is making the war their battle cry that's their bumper-sticker politics," he said. "They don't want to talk about domestic issues. No, they don't want to talk about those things. So they choose to make the war center stage."
Mr. Byrd was followed by Mr. Inouye, who also criticized the White House.
"It appears our administration and our president are making statements that only serve to divide our people," he said. "This is not a time for Democrats or Republicans to say: I have more medals than you; we've shed more blood than you."
Other Democrats defended Mr. Daschle's comments yesterday to reporters.
"I agree with what Senator Daschle said," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who said he considered homeland security and Iraq two parts of the same issue of national security. "I think if you read these statements, there is at least an implied if not a direct effort to pull these issues into a political realm."
The White House appeared unfazed by the Democrats' complaints.
"Now is a time for everybody concerned to take a deep breath, to stop finger-pointing, and to work well together to protect our national security and our homeland defense," Mr. Fleischer said.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said last night on PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" that "there has been some frustration that there hasn't been movement forward on the homeland security bill in the Senate."
"But it's the body, not the partisan matter of Democrats and Republicans, about which the president was speaking," she said.
Mr. Daschle and other Democrats said Mr. Bush's remarks were part of a pattern of politicization that began in the summer with a Republican pollster's advice that having the war issue dominate the news "puts Republicans on a very good footing."
They also cited Mr. Bush's comments and Vice President Richard B. Cheney's Monday fund-raiser for Republican House candidate Adam Taff in Kansas in which, Mr. Daschle said, Mr. Cheney suggested the candidate would help the war effort.
Mr. Fleischer specifically criticized Mr. Daschle on the Kansas speech for citing a misleading headline in the Topeka Capital-Journal that said, "Cheney Talks About War: Electing Taff Would Aid War Effort."
Mr. Cheney told the donors: "President Bush and I are very grateful for the opportunity to serve our country. We thank you for your support not just for our efforts, but for candidates like Adam Taff, who will make a fine partner for us in the work ahead."
Mr. Fleischer yesterday called this an "innocuous quote" that was "hardly the stuff of politics."
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, was at Mr. Cheney's Kansas speech on Monday and said the vice president didn't say anything out of bounds.
"The vice president of the United States didn't politicize anything in his speech in Kansas," he said.
Stephen Dinan and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.


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