WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers railed against Sen. Tom Daschle Tuesday after the Senate minority leader said that President Bush's diplomatic failures had forced the United States to go to war with Iraq.
"I was disappointed to see Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's comments regarding the upcoming military action in Iraq," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement. "Those comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."
"I think Sen. Daschle clearly articulated the French position," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., referring to French opposition to war. "This is uncalled for, I hope he retracts it."
"We have heard intemperate and ill-chosen criticism directed at the president from some elected to serve in this great body. Such statements are, simply put, disturbing," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor.
"Is Tom Daschle the official Democrat hatchet-man or just a taxpayer-funded pundit?" asked House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "Fermez la bouche, Monsieur Daschle."
Even a non-congressional Republican politico, National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot, called the comments Daschle made Monday "divisive and brazen political posturing."
It is "brazen and political" for a party chairman to be responding to a national security issue "with such divisive and political language," responded Daschle spokesman Jay Carson.
Speaking to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Monday, Daschle, D-S.D., touched off a firestorm when he said he was "saddened" by the president's failure to win support for war against Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.
"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war, saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country," he said.
After his remarks to the labor group, Daschle acknowledged that Saddam is a danger and stood by his original support for war.
"I would vote today as I did back then. We believe now as we did back then that Saddam poses very serious threats to this country and we have to recognize that," Daschle said.
On Tuesday, he added: "I don't know if anyone could view what we've seen so far as a diplomatic success ... Let me just simply say, as a veteran, there is no question that I stand strongly with the troops, I always will."
Daschle also said Tuesday that it is his duty in a democracy to question the president, and he earned the support of one other Democratic leader.
"Wherever you are on the war, one way or another, you have to know that America deserves better leadership in how we disarm Iraq," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Daschle's initial comments were made before attending a meeting of congressional leaders at the White House Monday night just hours before Bush set an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to either leave Iraq or face war. Vice President Dick Cheney continued the briefing after the president left to prepare his remarks for delivery.
On Tuesday, the White House criticized Daschle for playing politics on the eve of war and in contrast to his own previous condemnation of such talk.
"If you take a look at what Sen. Daschle said about the importance of raising the rhetoric to a higher level and not politicizing the rhetoric, I find his statement to be inconsistent," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Following the meeting Monday, lawmakers emerged to express support for the president.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he hoped that after hearing Bush's speech, "the Congress — Democrats and Republicans — will close ranks behind the president and our foreign policy will leave the shore with one voice."
"The president has shown great patience and given diplomacy every chance to work, but as he stated tonight — the time to act has arrived," Frist said.
Many Democratic lawmakers Monday lamented Bush's failure to win a new Security Council resolution on Iraq, but said now is the time to unite as war appears inevitable.
"Those of us who have questioned the administration's approach, including this senator, will now be rallying behind the men and women of our armed forces to give them the full support that they deserve as it now seems certain we will soon be at war," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a presidential candidate, said U.N. Security Council members are partially to blame for world division because they did not enforce the resolution calling on Saddam to disarm. But he also faulted "the Bush administration's unilateralist, divisive diplomacy, which has pushed a lot of the world away from us and this just and necessary cause."
Daschle caught flak previously for criticizing the president and his foreign policy in July 2001, while Bush was traveling to London for a European summit. Then-Majority Leader Daschle said the administration's failure to engage a wide range of international issues was eroding U.S. leadership in the world.
"I'm troubled by the fragile relationship [between the United States and Europe] that is becoming more and more evident," he said at the time. "I think we are isolating ourselves and in so isolating ourselves, I think we're minimizing ourselves. ... I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago."
Daschle's comments just before the summit caused an uproar in the Senate and a sharp rebuke from the White House, who called his words a "disappointing departure from the longstanding bipartisan tradition of the Senate majority leader when it comes to American foreign policy, particularly on the eve of a major international trip."
Fox News' Julie Asher and Carl Cameron contributed to this report.