- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The Senate's second-ranking Democrat criticized President Bush yesterday for honoring Confederate soldiers with wreaths the last two Memorial Days, calling it "racially motivated" and another example of opposition to civil rights.

Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, cited a Time magazine report that said Mr. Bush two years ago renewed a practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day. The Washington Times reported that wreath-laying at the time.

The Time article said the president's father, former President George Bush, ended the wreath tradition in 1990 a claim the White House, a spokeswoman for the military district of Washington and Confederate heritage groups immediately refuted.

"It certainly flies in the face of what the administration says they're trying to do," Mr. Reid said. "The president reinstated something that his father stopped because it was wrong, laying a wreath at the Confederate memorial. It's wrong, and we need to speak out against it because it is wrong."

Asked why the issue came up now, a spokeswoman for Mr. Reid said he was using the Time article as a starting point for his floor speech which also attacked the administration and the Republicans on a host of civil rights and race-relations issues.

In the month since Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi stepped down as leader of Senate Republicans, Democrats have made a host of attacks on Republicans over race or race-related issues and taken public stances on Confederate-heritage matters.

For example, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have all criticized flying the Confederate battle flag in one or another way.

Republicans saw Mr. Reid's attack in that context.

"This is the best political opportunity that has happened to Democrats since Enron, and they're going to grab onto it with both hands," one Republican congressional aide said.

But the military office that handles affairs at Arlington said there has been no change in administration policy, that the first Bush administration continued to send wreaths throughout and that the practice was continued by President Clinton.

Jennifer Lafley, a spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, said the wreath-laying on Memorial Day is one of several wreaths the White House sends to Arlington every year.

The president himself delivers a wreath to the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the White House sends other wreaths to be placed at the Spanish-American War Memorial and beneath the mast of the USS Maine, in addition to the Confederate Monument.

White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee also disputed the Time story, and the administration provided to The Washington Times copies of requests for wreaths for all four locations for every year back through 1990.

The cornerstone to the Confederate Monument was laid in 1912, and 482 persons are buried near the monument, including 46 officers, 351 enlisted men, 58 wives, 15 Southern civilians and 12 unknowns.

Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the practice of sending wreaths may go back further than the first Bush administration.

"These wreaths have been laid, as far as I know, even back to the times of Woodrow Wilson. I can't say it's done every year by presidents, but most of the time," he said. "As I understand it, President Clinton sent a wreath. So it's a bipartisan thing, and they're honoring Confederate war dead."

He and other Confederate-heritage advocates said Mr. Reid's attacks are purely political.

"This is all part of the far-left Democratic leadership's strategy for 2004," said Ron Casteel, chief of staff for the national Sons of Confederate Veterans. "They just want to try to ensure the Democratic Party base turns out in 2004."

Still, Mr. Casteel said Democrats may be miscalculating with the attack on the monument.

"There's a vast difference in public opinion," he said. "It's one thing to have the flag in a sovereign position [over a state Capitol], and it's another thing to have the flag flown in honor of Confederate dead."

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