House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said Sen. John Kerry was wrong to raise money off the recent House spat over withdrawing troops from Iraq and when he accused the speaker of calling a top House Democrat a “coward.”
In the hours before the Nov. 18 vote, Mr. Kerry’s political action committee (PAC) sent an e-mail urging supporters to rally around Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, who called for beginning withdrawal from Iraq immediately, and saying, “The speaker of the House who never served — accused Jack Murtha of being a coward.”
The e-mail also contained a link for contributing to the Massachusetts Democrat’s PAC.
Ron Bonjean, Mr. Hastert’s spokesman, said the comments were “simply over-the-top, extremely inappropriate and factually incorrect.”
“One does not have to serve in the military to recognize that the policy of retreat and defeat is the wrong approach,” Mr. Bonjean said, adding that Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, respects Mr. Murtha and has said so.
Mr. Murtha served more than three decades in the Marines, including several combat tours of duty in Vietnam, and retired as a colonel. Mr. Kerry also served in Vietnam as a Navy lieutenant and won three Purple Hearts, which meant that he did not have to serve out his combat tour.
On Nov. 17, Mr. Murtha called for the U.S. to begin immediately a six-month withdrawal from Iraq, sparking an all-out debate. The next day, as House Republicans made plans to force a vote on a resolution calling for withdrawal, Mr. Kerry sent his e-mail.
“You and I have to make it absolutely clear that we won’t stand for Republican ‘Swift Boat’ style attacks on Jack Murtha,” he said.
Mr. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign floundered in the days after former seamen who served on Swift Boats alongside Mr. Kerry in Vietnam challenged some of his decorations and his version of several combat actions.
Mr. Hastert, in his Web log after Mr. Murtha’s call, said Americans “must not cower like European nations,” but he did not refer to Mr. Murtha in that sentence or use the word “coward” anywhere in the post.
Still, Jenny Backus, an adviser to Mr. Kerry’s PAC, said the reference was close enough, noting that “national newspapers characterized his attacks on Murtha as calling him a coward.”
She referred to a Washington Post article in which the author said Republicans called Mr. Murtha a coward.
She also said the e-mail was not a fundraising e-mail because it didn’t ask for money in the text, but instead followed a standard format for the PAC’s e-mails, which includes a link asking for contributions.
“Instead of trying to continuously declare political war on fellow Americans and mischaracterize their positions, perhaps the speaker should put more of his energies into trying to win the real war that the Republicans and the president have entangled the country in and finding out the truth about the intelligence failures that were used to justify it,” Miss Backus said.
But Republicans said Mr. Kerry was far off target.
“John Kerry doesn’t seem to care if we cut and run as long as you cut him a check,” said one senior Republican aide who read Mr. Kerry’s fundraising e-mail.
One Republican House member did seem to accuse Mr. Murtha of being a coward, although that came after Mr. Kerry’s e-mail had been sent.
In floor debate on the resolution late Nov. 18, Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio Republican, said she was conveying a message from a constituent — himself a retired colonel and state representative — who told her to tell Mr. Murtha that “cowards cut and run, Marines never do.” She retracted her words after a firestorm of criticism.