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White House: Daschle's wrong

Bush aides dismiss demand for apology

From John King (CNN Washington)

Senior White House aides say the president's remarks were taken out of context.
Senior White House aides say the president's remarks were taken out of context.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House Wednesday quickly dismissed a demand from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle that President Bush apologize for what the nation's top elected Democrat said was an "outrageous" effort by Bush to reap political gain from the debate over homeland security and the war on terrorism.

Senior White House aides said Daschle was taking remarks by the president and vice president out of context -- or relying on misleading and inaccurate news reports.

They also suggested that Daschle perhaps turn his criticism to former Vice President Al Gore, who earlier this week offered a highly critical rebuke of the president's strategy in the war on terrorism and in confronting Iraq.

Daschle took issue with a number of remarks attributed to Republican strategists in which they make the case that a focus on Iraq and homeland security in the final weeks of the midterm election season is better for Republicans than a focus on the economy and health care.

But he turned especially angry in accusing the president himself of injecting politics into the war effort. Daschle referred to a Washington Post story and said it noted that the president had said "the Democratic-controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people."

Bush was speaking about the debate over creating a new Department of Homeland Security on Monday, when he said, "The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."

Top White House aides stressed that Bush had not used the term "Democratic-controlled" -- the newspaper used that term. And they noted that Daschle failed to mention these remarks by the president in the same speech: "And people are working hard in Washington to get it right in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. See, this isn't a partisan issue. This is an American issue."

At another event that same day -- Monday -- Bush put it this way in talking about the homeland security debate: "And my message to the Senate is: You need to worry less about special interests in Washington and more about the security of the American people."

Dispute over workplace rules

The White House has directly criticized Democrats in this dispute -- saying they are beholden to labor unions and pushing workplace rules for the new department that the White House views as overly restrictive.

Bush was not asked directly about Daschle's criticism but was asked to respond to those who say he is politicizing the war effort in hopes of benefiting the Republican Party -- by talking about the confrontation with Iraq and the overall war effort in virtually every speech he delivers, including at political rallies and fund-raisers.

"You may try to politicize it," Bush said. "I view it as my main obligation -- that is to protect the American people. It's the most important job this president will have and it's the most important job future president's will have because the nature of war has changed. We're vulnerable."

Daschle on Tuesday accused Vice President Dick Cheney of inappropriately mixing the war and politics. Daschle said the vice president had told a fund-raiser in Kansas that the Republican House candidate, Adam Taff, would be a better supporter of the president in the war effort than the Democratic candidate.

An Associated Press story that also appeared on the Topeka Capital-Journal Web site had this headline: "Cheney: Electing Taff would aid war effort."

White House aides distributed a transcript of the Cheney speech to back up their contention that he did praise Taff but did not make any comparison involving his Democratic rival.

Cheney did talk about the administration's push for a new United Nations Security Council resolution dealing with Iraq, and its resolve in acting outside of the United Nations if that effort failed. Cheney mentioned Taff's military service and said:

"He'll be helpful in meeting our key priorities for the country: winning the war on terror, strengthening the economy, and defending our homeland." Cheney then went through a number of administration priorities and closed his remarks by saying, "We thank you for our support, not just for our efforts, but for good candidates like Adam Taff, who will make a fine partner for us in the important work ahead."

Aides to the vice president said at no point in his remarks did Cheney said Taff would be a stronger support in the war on terrorism than the Democratic candidate -- a distinction they say is critical in the context of allegations the administration is playing politics with the war effort.

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