Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Republicans accused Capitol Hill Democrats yesterday of plotting to use military bases as props for political press events to criticize President Bush for his handling of the war in Iraq.

“I think that is deplorable,” Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said yesterday on Fox News. “It is pitiful. We are at war. This country needs to be unified and realize who the enemy is — it’s not fellow Americans.”

Mr. Allen and others cited a memo distributed last week by the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid that recommended Senate Democrats hold press events at, among other places, military bases.

Jim Manley, spokesman for the Nevada Democrat, dismissed the accusations and pointed to several examples of Mr. Bush and other Republicans using soldiers in uniform and military equipment for what he said was clear political gain. Among them was Mr. Bush’s 2003 fighter-jet landing onto an aircraft carrier adorned with a huge banner that read: “Mission Accomplished.”

“President Bush and Republicans have perfected the art of politicizing our military, and they should think twice before they unfairly accuse Democrats of following in their path,” Mr. Manley said.

Republicans say that the direct criticisms of Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress is precisely why it’s wrong to stage the events at military installations, where political events are not allowed. When Mr. Bush makes a speech before the Naval Academy, they say, he does so as commander in chief and is careful to avoid overtly political rhetoric.

“President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress have enacted strong policies to keep Americans safe during a global war on terror,” North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said yesterday. “As an alternative, the Democrats present political games and gimmicks.”

The existence of the six-page memo was reported by The Washington Times in Saturday’s editions.

Mr. Manley said the memo is an attempt to coordinate policy, not politics. In it, Democratic leaders also recommended that members hold press conferences this week at ports, local veteran halls and factories to sell their agenda aimed at protecting Americans’ security here and on the battlefield.

“Unlike Bush and his Republicans in Congress who have used America’s military as a backdrop for five years, Democrats are talking to our troops, veterans and families about an agenda based on real competency and real security to keep them and our country safe and provide the benefits they need and deserve,” Mr. Manley said. “It’s simple — Republicans won’t tell their constituents the truth. Democrats will.”

Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Democrats in both chambers don’t distinguish between “policy and posturing.”

“They have done nothing but elevate obstacles and pursue partisanship in a post-September 11 world,” he said. “This memo is verification of a party that bows at the altar of political opportunity while ignoring real homeland security interests.”

• Rowan Scarborough and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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