WH defends GOP plan to sell Bush 9-11 photo
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House approves of the Republican congressional campaign committee's plan to use a photograph of President Bush taken on September 11 as part of a GOP fundraising effort, a move Democrats call "nothing short of grotesque."
The White House photograph shows Bush aboard Air Force One, talking to Vice President Dick Cheney hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are offering the picture, along with photos of the president during his State of the Union address and at his inauguration, to donors who contribute at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady next month.
"We know it's the Republicans' strategy to use the war for political gain, but I would hope that even the most cynical partisan operative would have cowered at the notion of exploiting the September 11 tragedy in this way," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in a written statement.
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, told reporters the White House was "generally aware" the GOP congressional campaign committees wanted to use photos of the president for fund-raising purposes and "no objections were raised."
He said he was not informed of the specific pictures the GOP intended to use.
Fleischer defended the move, arguing the pictures are "part of the president's job serving all the people of this country." He said it is "for the party committees to decide if they want to make those pictures available to their contributors. They have that right to do so."
In a letter accompanying the offer to sell the presidential photographs, Cheney wrote that Bush and congressional Republicans "have cut taxes, reformed education, rallied the nation to confront and fight terrorism both here and abroad and fulfilled our promise to bring compassionate conservatism to Washington."
Asked about Democratic charges the GOP is using the terrorist attacks for "political gain," Fleischer said, "I think the Democrats are having a very difficult time coming to grips with the fact that this is a very popular president and what they do is they take some of the times that lend themselves to the president's popularity and they try to lash out without any solid basis about it.
"And that is Washington, and that is just not the way the president does business."
Former Vice President Al Gore, Bush's opponent in the tight 2000 presidential race, also condemned use of the picture.
"While most pictures are worth a thousand words, a photo that seeks to capitalize on one of the most tragic moments in our nation's history is worth only one -- 'disgraceful,'" Gore said. "I cannot imagine that the families of those who lost their lives on September 11 condone this -- and neither should the president of the United States."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was more restrained.
"Obviously, we certainly hope that no governmental role is involved here, that no photographs or facilities that are taxpayer based would be used here, but we'll have to pass judgments and make decisions as information is provided to us," he said.
On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said he would not comment until he had seen the letter and the pictures, but he noted that the Republican National Committee is "a separate entity, like the DNC. I mean (Democrats) certainly wouldn't be in a position to be pointing fingers at anybody else."
Fleischer said he could not say who from the White House was made aware of the GOP campaign committee's plans and whether Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser, signed off on the move.
Fleischer said the president was aware the pictures were being used and was also aware of the criticism.
"The president's reaction is that the party committees have made three photos of him, doing his job for the American people, available," Fleischer said. "The party committees made the decision, the White House did not object."
The Bush spokesman said all three pictures were provided by the media to a commercial photo vendor, Corbis.com, and the GOP committees purchased the photos from the commercial vendor.
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