- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

Republicans and Democrats both seized on yesterday’s terrorist arrests in Britain as they jockeyed for position in an election year, with Republicans now relishing upcoming fights over wiretaps and detainees and Democrats saying the situation underscores President Bush’s failures on the home front.

As part of an effort to label Democrats as less qualified to protect Americans, Mr. Bush said the foiled plot is a “stark reminder” that “the nation is at war with Islamic fascists” and that his administration has “given our officials the tools they need” to fight it.

With fewer than three months till the midterm congressional elections, the arrests set up a fight in Congress over those tools — detention of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and monitoring of terror suspects’ bank records and phone calls.

Democrats said Mr. Bush has not done enough on homeland security, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California saying Mr. Bush has ignored key recommendations of the September 11 commission on airport security.

“We are not as safe as we should be,” added Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

“The Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists,” said the Nevada Democrat, who yesterday also predicted that Democrats would pick up five seats in November to evenly split the Senate.

Yesterday’s arrests are already popping up in political campaigns — and nowhere more pointedly than the Connecticut Senate race, where Sen. Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to anti-Iraq war candidate Ned Lamont on Tuesday.

Mr. Lieberman, who has filed to run as an independent in November, said Mr. Lamont’s goals for ending the war in Iraq would constitute a “victory” for the terrorists.

When the Senate returns to work in September, the first order of business will be to complete the defense spending bill, and the chamber is also scheduled to work on chemical facility security. Both houses of Congress will debate how the U.S. should treat those detained as part of the war on terror.

Lawmakers said they expect those fights to dominate the same way the creation of the Department of Homeland Security did in 2002. Then, Democrats were blocking Mr. Bush’s plan for a new department on the grounds that it didn’t include enough union rights for new workers.

“I think it’s deja vu all over again,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “It’s unbelievable to me, and if you look at what happened to Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut race … it does give you a pretty good indication of where the Democrat Party is and their inability to say ‘No’ to the defeatist and appeasement wing of their party.”

Although Democrats said they plan to focus on how Mr. Bush has failed to shore up defenses, Republicans said the key issue is taking the fight to terrorists.

“With the Patriot Act, FISA courts and other intelligence programs, we can learn what the terrorists know and where they go, and then we have a chance to disrupt them,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. “But it is those same tools that saved the day today that the Democratic leadership have repeatedly tried to vote down, thereby weakening America’s intelligence efforts and lowering our guard against terrorism.”

Mr. Bush said the arrests underscore the real threat the country faces.

“It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America,” he told reporters on a Green Bay, Wis., tarmac just hours after the arrest of 24 terror suspects in London. “We’ve taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously, we still aren’t completely safe.”

His comments came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney said Democrats have a “pre-9/11 mind-set” on national-security strategy, and the White House said Democrats are waving “a white flag in the war on terror,” citing as proof the defeat of Mr. Lieberman, a three-term senator who backed the Iraq war and supports Mr. Bush’s offensive against terror.

A senior administration official aboard Air Force One said yesterday that the president will continue to press his case for the U.S. war against terror and use national security as a wedge issue.

“We’ll talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats.”

Flipping the conventional wisdom that Mr. Lieberman’s loss in a Connecticut primary on Tuesday was because of his ties to Mr. Bush, the official said Americans will “look at the consequences of failure and the consequences of victory, the consequences of withdrawal and the consequences of finishing the fight, and they draw very important lessons about what it means to our country.”

In addition to the pending legislation debates, two key Justice Department nominations could turn out to be political flash points in the debate on who is stronger on homeland security.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, is reportedly blocking Kenneth Wainstein, Mr. Bush’s nominee to a new anti-terror post at the Justice Department, and three Democratic senators have said they will block Steven G. Bradbury, Mr. Bush’s nominee to head the department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“It’s just to me inconceivable that we have people blocking nominations of key counterterrorism personnel,” Mr. Cornyn said.

A spokesman said that Mr. Levin was traveling yesterday and that the office would not have a response.

The offensive to paint Democrats as weak on terror has been eclipsed in recent weeks by the crisis in the Middle East and continued sectarian violence in Iraq, which one top general said last week threatens to throw the country into civil war. But the strategy — implemented in the past two election cycles by White House political adviser Karl Rove — has proven itself a winner, and one former senior administration official said Republicans will benefit.

“The American people are going to be reminded that the Bush doctrine of pre-emption and taking the war to the terrorists is working. Americans are going to be reminded that they are being kept safe by the president, while Democrats are talking about isolationism,” the official said.

That sentiment already is playing out in Ohio, where the state Republican chairman said Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, had voted against money “for the very types of programs that helped the British thwart these vicious attacks.”

“If Sherrod Brown had his way, America would be less safe,” chairman Bob Bennett said.

Mr. Brown replied that the money that the administration is spending on the Iraq war is misplaced and that the arrests “underscore the need to refocus our resources on fighting the war on terror.”

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