Byrd blasts Bush for 'flamboyant showmanship' with carrier speech
White House says Bush address marked 'milestone'
By Sean Loughlin
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Blasting President Bush's "flamboyant showmanship," the Senate's senior Democrat on Tuesday assailed the president for his speech aboard an aircraft carrier last week in which he declared an end to major combat in Iraq.
"President Bush's address to the American people announcing combat victory in Iraq deserved to be marked with solemnity, not extravagance; with gratitude to God, not self-congratulatory gestures," Sen. Robert Byrd, D- West Virginia, said in a sharply worded speech delivered on the Senate floor. "American blood has been shed on foreign soil in defense of the president's policies. This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial."
Bush's prime time address to the nation Thursday was carried live on television. The White House also won extensive coverage of the buildup to the speech with the president's dramatic arrival on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Arriving by a Navy jet, he sat in the co-pilot's seat as the pilot made a tailhook landing on the carrier.
Last week, the White House had said that such a landing was necessary because the carrier would have been too far out for a helicopter landing. In fact, the carrier was close enough to the California coast for a helicopter landing.
"The ship did make much faster progress than anticipated," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Tuesday, when asked about the matter. Still, he said the president "wanted to arrive on it in a manner that would allow him to see an arrival on a carrier the same way pilots got to see an arrival on a carrier."
Some Democrats have criticized the landing as an elaborate and expensive photo opportunity for a president up for re-election next year. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, sent a letter Tuesday to the General Accounting Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- asking for a "a full accounting of the costs associated with the president's trip." Fleischer said he had no estimate on the cost of the carrier event.
The White House has described the speech as an appropriate acknowledgment of a "milestone" in the war against terrorism and also as a way of thanking the men and women in the armed services who participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Byrd's speech was the most pointed and stinging commentary about the matter from a lawmaker.
"As I watched the president's fighter jet swoop down onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, I could not help but contrast the reported simple dignity of President Lincoln at Gettysburg with the flamboyant showmanship of President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln," Byrd said.
Byrd, who has been a persistent and vocal critic of Bush's policies toward Iraq, said a "salute" to America's warriors was appropriate, but he added, "I do question the motives of a desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."
Byrd opposed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, told CNN the president was "honored" to visit the carrier as commander in chief and "personally thank our men and women in the military for a job well done."
Asked about Byrd's specific criticism of Bush's unusual arrival on the carrier, McClellan referred back to his comment about the president wanting to thank the armed forces in person.
"I think I've addressed that," McClellan said.
--Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.