WASHINGTON – A White House official said Friday the administration finds it "somewhat puzzling" that Democrats are demanding presidential adviser Karl Rove's (search) apology or resignation for implying that liberals are soft on terrorism.
"I think Karl was very specific, very accurate, in who he was pointing out," communications director Dan Bartlett (search) said. "It's touched a chord with these Democrats. I'm not sure why."
Congressional Republicans earlier joined the White House in standing solidly behind Rove, saying he shouldn't apologize and that he was outlining a philosophical divide between a president who sought to win the war on terrorism by taking the fight to the enemy and Democrats who questioned that approach.
The controversy, fought out in hearings, floor speeches and news conferences Thursday on Capitol Hill (search), was the latest of several highly contentious battles that have soured the already highly partisan atmosphere.
Earlier this week Sen. Dick Durbin (search), D-Ill., apologized after being hit with a chorus of attacks from Republicans about comments in which he compared detainee treatment at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, to the actions of Nazis and other repressive regimes.
Rove, the architect behind President Bush's election victories, on Wednesday night told a gathering of the New York Conservative Party that "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." Conservatives, he said, "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war."
He added that groups linked to the Democratic Party made the mistake of calling for "moderation and restraint" after the terrorist attacks.
Bartlett, appearing on morning news shows Friday, said that Rove was referring in his talk to Moveon.org, a liberal group that has been identified with movie producer Michael Moore.
"It's somewhat puzzling why all these Democrats ... who responded forcefully after 9-11, who voted to support President Bush's pursuit of the war on terror, are now rallying to the defense of Moveon.org, this liberal organization who put out a petition in the days after 9-11 and said that we ought not use military force in responding to 9-11," Bartlett said on NBC on Friday. "That is who Karl Rove cited in that speech ... There is no need to apologize."
Appearing on CBS, Bartlett said that Rove was "just pointing out that MoveOn.org is a liberal organization that didn't defend or accept the way that we prosecuted the war in the days after" the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Bartlett told interviewers that he didn't understand why Democrats "are throwing up such a huff."
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, in a letter to Rove co-signed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Democratic senators from Connecticut and New Jersey, called the presidential adviser's speech "a slap in the face to the unity that America achieved after Sept. 11, 2001."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday there was no reason for Rove to apologize because he was "simply pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism."
"Of course not," McClellan said when asked by reporters whether Bush would ask Rove to apologize.
Democrats said Rove, and his Republican allies, were now trying to change the subject when Democrats, and many Americans, are becoming increasingly critical of the course of the war in
For Rove "to try to exploit 9/11 for political purposes once again just shows you how desperate they are," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who in recent days has been the target of Republican attacks for saying that the Iraq war was a "grotesque mistake."