- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

President Bush this week reset the political landscape with just two months to go until the congressional elections, grabbing top headlines three days in a row as he dropped several political hot potatoes into Congress’ lap and demanded action this month.

After a summer of questions about policy and progress in Iraq, his strategy on Iranian nuclear ambitions and the collapse of his push for a broad immigration bill, Mr. Bush has honed in on one overriding message: Democrats can either join Republicans to pass bipartisan bills or they can try to block them and see how that plays in November.

He also boosted Republicans’ case for having made the nation more secure since the September 11 attacks by giving details of plots that have been foiled — the first time many of those details have ever been released.

“It’s not an abstract argument anymore. The president pointed out specific events that have not occurred,” Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said in a telephone interview.

Democrats took some of their best shots to date, including an attempt to vote “no confidence” on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the release of their own security plan. But they were countered by White House dominance of the news cycle on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — the three days Congress was in session and Democrats had a platform.

Democrats, remembering the way the president used the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 as a wedge to win control of the Senate, said they won’t let that happen again.

“We’re playing it much smarter this time. We’re not going to allow them to box us into a corner,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “It’s obvious what the administration was trying to do this week, and that was exert maximum pressure on Democrats, and Republicans as well, that have concerns about their proposal. Unfortunately this time it’s not going to work. Their tough-talking rings hollow.”

Unlike 2002, Mr. Manley said, Democrats have both the September 11 commission as a yardstick to point out where the administration has fallen short on homeland security and divisions among Republicans on a number of issues.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, yesterday said splits among Republicans on military tribunals for detainees, Iraq policy and the fate of Mr. Rumsfeld have paralyzed the majority party.

“The result is fighting and chaos and nothing accomplished for the country. It’s time for a new direction,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Bush sought to cut through many of those divisions this week by honing his message.

In three speeches this week the president tried to put a face on the terrorists, asked Congress to approve his terrorist wiretapping program and announced he has transferred 14 top terrorists from CIA custody to the Defense Department. He called on Congress to authorize military commissions to try them.

“That is the No. 1 priority right now,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday.

Mr. McConnell said the courts forced the issue, but insisted that the political decision is now up to the Democrats.

“They’ve got now a choice — they can either sign up with the president and the administration and a majority of Republicans and pass these two pieces of legislation on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, or they can turn it into a political issue we’ll be happy to take to the American people,” he said.

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