- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

The White House might have been slow and clumsy in defending itself from charges of sloppy intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq, but House Republicans plan to make up for that during the summer recess.

The House Republican leadership is sending members home for August armed with talking points on the war to disarm Iraq and a graphic showing the 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials, with 35 of them crossed out.

“The goal here is for our members to go home and set the record straight,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference. “The truth is that this president has used proper intelligence and analysis in fighting the war in Iraq.”

Mr. Crist said many of the 229 Republican House members considered the attacks on President Bush “just Democratic politics.” Their view seemed validated when the White House was slow to aggressively and consistently respond to Democratic complaints about a line in Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address about Iraq’s pursuing uranium in Africa that relied on British intelligence.

However, as the story picked up steam through repeated critical speeches by Democrats in the Senate and its emergence as a touchstone of the Democratic presidential nomination fight, the minds of Republicans began to change.

“The White House was kind of slow out of the blocks on this,” said an unidentified senior House Republican leadership aide. “Our members said to the White House, ‘We can help. Give us the tools.’”

One of those tools is a graphic showing a deck of cards spread out faceup with all but enough cards for a three-man, five-card stud poker game crossed out. It can be made into a poster for a town-hall meeting or into flyers to pass out to constituents.

“We want to have this fight because we know we are right,” the Republican aide said. “We didn’t need any prodding on this. Clearly one of our strongest messages is that our intelligence did work. Just look at all the faces crossed out, and there are a lot of high cards crossed out, too.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in a speech Friday defended Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq and said the 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,” he said. “If we are to take this nonsense seriously, that is how out of control the Democrats’ rhetoric has become.”

However, many House Democrats don’t see the war as a major talking point this summer. Indeed, they’d rather take the time away from Washington to change the subject to the economy, health care, education and spending on first responders in the event of a terrorist attack.

“Not to be a cynic, but [Mr. Bush] likes to focus on the fact that we killed Saddam’s two sons,” said an unidentified senior House Democratic aide, “and the unfortunate daily death of American soldiers notwithstanding, it’s the only thing he can point to in the last two years — the removal of a dictator.

“Meanwhile, we have an economy savaged by trillion-dollar tax cuts, an economy he continues to blame on the president before him and the war on terror,” the aide said.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has been among the most vocal critics in the House of Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq. Yet the first topic of conversation for him, he said, will be how Republicans have “ushered in the beginning of the end of Head Start.”

The House Democratic Leadership aide said the party’s members will be focusing on jobs, education, health care and homeland security — what they see as Republican shortcomings in addressing all four issues.

Iraq “is something to be brought up if a Democrat has a town-hall [meeting] and if a constituent brings it up,” the aide said.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, praised his party for its unity against the Republican agenda and said that strategy would “lay the solid foundation for winning and regaining the majority in November 2004.”

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