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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Majority Leader John Boehner's call for critics to lay off Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because the generals are responsible for the conduct of the war in Iraq has sparked outrage among Democrats.
In an interview Wednesday on CNN, Boehner said, "Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld."
CNN's Wolf Blitzer replied, "But he's in charge of the military."
"The fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president," Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said.
This latest political flap comes in the middle of a firestorm over comments made by Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts that many regarded as slighting U.S. troops in Iraq.
Kerry apologized on Wednesday. (Full story)
Democratic leaders acted quickly to describe Boehner's comments as derisive.
Both Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Boehner was blaming U.S. generals for failings in Iraq. Both immediately demanded a mea culpa from the powerful Republican.
"After the Bush administration's numerous failures in Iraq, to blame our brave troops is just wrong," Dean said in a statement. "Once again, Republican leadership is pointing fingers rather than taking responsibility for their failures."
Reid said Boehner "ought to be ashamed."
"He's blaming our troops for failures in Iraq. If he wants to cast blame, he can start by looking in the mirror, because he and his congressional Republican colleagues have rubber-stamped the Bush administration's failed policy for nearly four years," Reid said in a statement.
In response, Boehner spokesman Kevin Madden said the Democrats' criticism was "an obvious and weak attempt" to deflect criticism from Kerry.
"Democrats are quickly squandering any and all credibility by even attempting to equate Mr. Boehner's comments with criticism of anyone in the military," Madden said in a statement. "Mr. Boehner commends our military and our generals for doing a heroic job each and every day in their fight against terrorists in Iraq and around the globe."
Under bipartisan fire Wednesday, Kerry issued a written apology for comments he made at a campaign rally Monday in California, where he told college students that if they didn't get an education, they would end up "stuck in Iraq."
Kerry said the comments were a "poorly stated joke" aimed at President Bush. But he apologized to anyone who was offended.
House Majority Leader John Boehner said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not to blame for the situation in Iraq.
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