Daschle on 'politicizing the war'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a stinging salvo delivered on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle lashed out at President Bush, saying his administration is exploiting the possibility of war with Iraq for political gain and had impugned Senate Democrats in the process.
Daschle demanded an apology and urged the president to end what the South Dakota Democrat called "politicizing the debate about war."
A transcript of Daschle's comments follows:
DASCHLE: Mr. President, I wanted to take a few minutes of leader time this morning, before we get into the debate on the amendment offered by the senator from Texas, to talk about a concern that I have wanted to avoid talking about for weeks.
I am very saddened by the fact that we have debated homeland security now for three weeks. I have noted on several occasions that there is no reason, on a bipartisan basis, this body cannot work together to overcome our differences and to pass a meaningful and substantive bill dealing with homeland security.
Some have suggested that the delay has been politically motivated, and I have said: I am not willing to believe that. In fact, yesterday I said: We intend to give the president the benefit of the doubt.
Over the course of the last several weeks, as we have debated national security, the issue of war in Iraq has become more and more prominent.
And again, as I go back to my experience in 1991 and 1992, during a similar period -- the fall and winter prior to and after an election -- I expressed the concern that our politics in this climate could easily create a politicized environment and, in so doing, diminish, minimize, degrade the debate on an issue as grave as war.
No one here needs to be reminded of the consequences of war. No one here should have to be admonished about politicizing the debate about war. But, Mr. President, increasingly, over the course of the last several weeks, reports have surfaced which have led me to believe that indeed there are those who would politicize this war.
I was given a report about a recommendation made by Matthew Dowd, the pollster for the White House and the Republican National Committee. He told a victory dinner not long ago -- I quote -- "The No. 1 driver for our base motivationally is this war."
Dowd said war could be beneficial to the GOP in the 2002 elections. And then I quote: "When an issue dominates the landscape like this one will dominate the landscape, I think through this election and probably for a long time to come, it puts Republicans on a very good footing."
I thought: Well, perhaps that is a pollster. Perhaps pollsters are paid to say what is best regardless of what other considerations ought to be made. Pollsters are paid to tell you about the politics of issues. And were it left with pollsters, perhaps I would not be as concerned.
But then I read that Andy Card was asked: Well, why did this issue come before Washington and the country now? Why are we debating it in September?
Where were we last year? Where were we last spring? And Mr. Card's answer was: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
New products? War?
And then I listen to reports of the vice president. The vice president comes to fund-raisers, as he did just recently in Kansas. The headline written in the paper the next day about the speech he gave to that fund-raiser was: Cheney talks about war: electing Taff would aid war effort.
And then we find a diskette discovered in Lafayette Park, a computer diskette that was lost somewhere between a Republican strategy meeting in the White House and the White House. Advice was given by Karl Rove, and the quote on the disk was: "Focus on war."
I guess, right from the beginning, I thought: Well, first it was pollsters, and then it was White House staff, and then it was the vice president.
And all along I was asked: Are you concerned about whether or not this war is politicized? And my answer, on every occasion, was: Yes.
And then the followup question is: Is the White House politicizing the war? And I said: Without question, I can't bring myself to believe that it is. I can't believe any president or any administration would politicize the war.
But then I read in the paper this morning, now even the president -- the president is quoted in The Washington Post this morning as saying that the Democratic-controlled Senate is "not interested in the security of the American people."
Not interested in the security of the American people? You tell Sen. Inouye he is not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people.
That is outrageous, outrageous. The president ought to apologize to Sen. Inouye and every veteran who has fought in every war who is a Democrat in the Senate. He ought to apologize to the American people. That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death.
I was in Normandy just last year. I have been in national cemeteries all over this country. And I have never seen anything but stars -- the Star of David and crosses on those markers. I have never seen "Republican" and "Democrat."
This has to end, Mr. President. We have to get on with the business of our country. We have to rise to a higher level. Our Founding Fathers would be embarrassed by what they are seeing going on right now. We have to do better than this. Our standard of deportment ought to be better. Those who died gave their lives for better than what we are giving now.
So, Mr. President, it is not too late to end this politicization. It is not too late to forget the pollsters, forget the campaign fund-raisers, forget making accusations about how interested in national security Democrats are; and let's get this job done right.
Let's rise to the occasion. That is what the American people are expecting.
And we ought to give them no less. I yield the floor.