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Inside Politics

Kerry frustrated by GOP-postponed vote

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John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry jumped off the presidential campaign trail Tuesday so he could vote for a measure funding health care benefits for veterans -- only to watch Republican leaders postpone the vote.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee denounced their move as "politics at its silliest."

For the past month, GOP leaders have engaged in political gamesmanship with Kerry over his dual roles as senator and candidate.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, charged that Tuesday's delay -- on a proposed Democratic amendment to a defense spending bill to fund veterans' health care -- was but the latest example.

Republicans insisted that they delayed the vote because a time agreement had not yet been reached with Democrats for debate on the defense bill.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, noted that he was not happy about Kerry -- who has missed about 80 percent of the Senate's floor votes during his presidential campaign -- deciding to "parachute" in to vote on the veterans' issue.

Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, has made an appeal to veterans a major point of his campaign, and he has criticized the Bush administration for not adequately funding benefits and health care for veterans.

Anticipating Tuesday's vote, he canceled several campaign events in New Mexico and returned to the capital to wait for the roll call that never came.

"It's politics at its silliest," he told CNN. "It speaks for itself."

Last month, a proposal to extend unemployment benefits to jobless Americans -- which Democrats had championed for months -- fell one vote short of passage, while Kerry was campaigning in Kentucky.

President Bush's re-election campaign jumped on the missed vote, saying Kerry was "too busy playing politics" to do his job.

But Kerry accused Republicans of "playing a game," saying one of the 11 GOP senators who voted for the measure would have switched sides to defeat it if he had been there to vote for it.

Then, last week, another Democratic proposal to make war profiteering a crime failed by two votes. Kerry was in the Capitol just a short distance from the floor at a meeting, but he did not vote.

A senior Democratic aide said he had made a decision not to cast votes unless absolutely necessary to prevent Republicans from engineering close votes to highlight his absences.

GOP aides conceded that even if Kerry had voted for the war profiteering measure, Republicans would have switched their votes to make sure it failed anyway.

The two top Republicans in Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, have called on Kerry to resign his seat, saying he wasn't adequately representing the state in the Senate.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who resigned his Kansas seat to run for president in 1996, also said he thinks Kerry should consider that step.

But Kerry has rejected those suggestions, insisting that he is serving his constituents.

Democrats also note that if he were to resign, Romney would get to appoint his replacement, although the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill to strip the governor of that power and fill the post with a special election.

CNN Congressional correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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