- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

STOCKTON, Calif. — President Bush yesterday accused Democrats of being “softer” on terrorists and charged that they compared CIA officers with the Taliban.

“If you don’t think we should be listening in on the terrorists, then you ought to vote for the Democrats,” Mr. Bush said at a fundraiser here for Rep. Richard W. Pombo, part of a three-day fundraising blitz through the West in the run-up to next month’s congressional elections.

In his most bruising campaign speech to date, the president called out Democratic leaders, comparing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s boast of having “killed the Patriot Act” to Sen. John Kerry’s iconic “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” statement on Iraq war funding in the 2004 election.

Mr. Bush also said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t understand the war on terrorism because she said this year’s elections shouldn’t be fought on national security issues.

Last month, Mr. Bush challenged Congress to send him legislation enshrining the tools he says are needed to fight the war on terrorism, including wiretapping authority for the National Security Agency and interrogation authority for the CIA.

This week, Mr. Bush has become the official scorekeeper, tallying up those who opposed him: 160 House Democrats and 32 Senate Democrats on the interrogation bill, and 177 House Democrats on the wiretap authority.

“The Democrats want to have it both ways,” Mr. Bush said. “They talk tough on terror, but when the votes are counted, their softer side comes out.”

But Democrats said Mr. Bush has lost the credibility to level these charges.

“Given that this administration has misled the American people on so many issues like weapons of mass destruction, and what our intelligence agencies really said, it is pretty cheeky for the president to talk about trust,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Mr. Reid fired back by saying the administration is ignoring warnings about how badly the war in Iraq is going and failed to heed earlier warnings about al Qaeda in the run-up to the September 11 attacks.

“President Bush is no longer credible with the American people, no matter how many campaign speeches he gives in the next month,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Mr. Bush never mentioned Mrs. Pelosi or Mr. Reid by name, but identified them and several others by position or quote: both California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein; Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat; and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Bush blasted Mr. Leahy for opposing the interrogation program and said that on the Senate floor, Mr. Leahy compared CIA officers to the Taliban and deposed Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

“This exposes a dangerous mind-set on the part of Democrats in Congress,” Mr. Bush said. “You can’t defend America if you cannot tell the difference between the CIA officers who protect their fellow citizens and brutal dictators who kill their fellow citizens.”

Mr. Leahy’s spokesman, David Carle, called Mr. Bush’s charge a “fabrication.”

During a Senate debate, Mr. Leahy was calling for habeas corpus protections and laid out a hypothetical detention without those legal protections. He then compared the hypothetical to “something that would have happened under the Taliban, something that Saddam Hussein would have ordered or something out of Kafka.”

The administration has said the CIA program helped foil a number of terrorist plots, and the president yesterday said Democrats must “explain to the American people which of the attacks that the CIA program stopped would they have been willing to let go forward.”

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