- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

Republicans’ defense of President Bush and the war in Iraq stiffened yesterday as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Democrats are accusing the president of being a traitor.

“If you take their comments to their logical conclusion, they’re essentially calling our commander in chief Benedict Arnold,” Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, told the College Republicans at their biennial national convention in the District.

“Ridiculous as it sounds, the logical extension of the Democrat leadership’s assertion is that President Bush is an international war criminal. If we are to take this nonsense seriously, that is how out of control the Democrats’ rhetoric has become.”

But Mr. DeLay said Democrats haven’t explicitly made those charges because they themselves don’t believe them.

“The Democrats’ accusations aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Because they’re unserious people,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a global conflict between good and evil, and they’re in the middle of a Michael Dukakis look-alike contest.”

In New York, new Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Democrats’ sole strategy is to try to weaken the president, though they present no credible alternative.

“Their overheated rhetoric toward the president, bandying about words like ‘lying,’ ‘madman’ and, yes, ‘impeachment,’ is designed to distract from the central fact that their policies would not make us safer in the world, and President Bush’s do,” said Mr. Gillespie, who was confirmed yesterday as party chairman.

Republicans are making a concerted effort to push back after nearly a month of Democratic challenges to the legitimacy of the war in Iraq.

On Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, laid out part of the case the administration relied upon to decide Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a threat that had to be removed.

And as Congress prepares for its summer recess, Republicans are going home with talking points to help put the entire Iraqi situation in focus.

Democrats aren’t backing down, and are in fact using Iraq to challenge the president on his leadership all around — an area where, to date, American voters have rated Mr. Bush highly.

“We all know that President Bush misled the American people on the rationale for war with Iraq. We now know that the Niger uranium claim was discredited, that evidence regarding aluminum tubes was highly questionable, and that the link to al Qaeda was virtually nonexistent,” presidential contender and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said yesterday while campaigning in Iowa.

Mr. Dean said those questions about the president’s credibility on the war should now be broadened to include other administration priorities and accomplishments.

“This practice goes far beyond misleading the country and the world about the reasons for taking us to war in Iraq, this practice extends into the state of the nation’s economy, its environment, its schools and beyond,” he said.

Democrats particularly targeted the now-famous “16 words” from this year’s State of the Union address, in which Mr. Bush cited British intelligence claims that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. Even though British agencies stand by the report, the White House earlier this month said the information should not have been included in a presidential speech.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and another presidential contender, has suggested Mr. Bush was deceptive to the point of committing an impeachable offense.

Now congressional Democrats are expanding their criticism of the State of the Union speech, arguing Mr. Bush was also wrong in claiming Iraq tried to buy aluminum tubes for nuclear-weapons production.

But Mr. DeLay and Mr. Gillespie both said yesterday that Democrats’ charges are the result of a party without any agenda other than to beat Mr. Bush in 2004.

“The once-proud party of Franklin Roosevelt, who famously told us ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ now seems to have nothing to offer but fear itself,” Mr. Gillespie said.

For his part, Mr. DeLay left few Democratic notables unscathed.

“Just look at their presidential candidates: It’s like they’re lost in a time warp. They want to tax like Mondale, spend like Carter, and fight like McGovern,” he said.

Mr. Delay went on to assail individual candidates by name, then as a whole, calling their ideas “just weird.”

“It makes you wonder if at their next presidential debate, the Democrats are all going to show up wearing aluminum-foil helmets to protect their brain waves from the mother ship,” he said.

Steve Sexton contributed to this report.

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