WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) has "zero credibility" when it comes to criticizing John Kerry's national security credentials, Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) says, because Cheney as secretary of defense had proposed cuts to weapons programs being used by U.S. troops in Iraq.
McAuliffe planned a news conference Monday to rebut Republican criticism of Kerry's Senate voting record and military background. The event also was timed to blunt a speech by Cheney in Fulton, Mo., that was expected to be critical of Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
McAuliffe said Cheney, who was defense secretary from 1989-1992, "tried to kill" more than 81 weapons programs, including M-1 tanks, Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter planes and B-2 bombers.
Cheney also pushed for closing more than 70 domestic military installations, and reducing the size of the military by 500,000 active duty personnel and 200,000 reservists, McAuliffe said.
A spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, Steve Schmid (search), responded that McAuliffe has "a staggering lack of credibility" on the issue.
"During the height of the Cold War John Kerry advocated canceling the critical weapons systems that helped win the Cold War and are still being used to win the war on terror," Schmid said Monday. "After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vice President Cheney helped transform the military from the Cold War era to the 21st century military that serves America today."
McAuliffe said Cheney, whom he called the Bush campaign's "attack dog in chief," was being sent out to deliver "another round of distortions" in light of events this week that could bring negative attention to President Bush and his administration.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case seeking to force the disclosure of members of Cheney's energy task force.
Bush and Cheney testify together and in private Thursday before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. Saturday marks the first anniversary of Bush's visit to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, where, under a giant banner proclaming "Mission Accomplished," he declared the end of major combat in Iraq.
Most of the more than 700 U.S. troops killed in Iraq lost their lives after Bush's May 1, 2003, declaration.
Cheney's speech Monday also coincides with a $10 million television advertising spree by Bush's re-election campaign, starting this week, that seeks to portray Kerry as weak on national security. Other Bush ads have questioned the Massachusetts senator's fitness for the presidency because he voted against a $87 billion funding measure for U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush, Kerry has said, threatened to veto the bill.
"Our point is enough is enough," McAuliffe told The Associated Press on Sunday, previewing his remarks. "If Dick Cheney wants to challenge John Kerry ... he better be ready to have the light shone on him."
"He has zero credibility. He has no legs to stand on to attack John Kerry," the Democratic chairman said.
Marc Racicot (search), chairman of Bush's re-election campaign, said Republicans have done nothing but voice their respect for Kerry's service in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
"We would never question his patriotism," Racicot told "Fox News Sunday." "We have from the very first point in time talked about the fact that John Kerry serviced this country honorably."
McAuliffe noted Kerry's release last week of his military record, detailing the actions as commander of a swift boat in the Mekong Delta that led to him being awarded three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.
During the Vietnam War, Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard, but did not participate in combat. Cheney received student deferments.
McAuliffe seized on the contrast.
"This is the comparison we're willing to have," he said. "When John Kerry was in that swift boat with people firing upon him, where were George Bush and Dick Cheney?"