WASHINGTON – House Republicans and Democrats traded accusations of improper politicking Wednesday as they sparred over a resolution commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Democrats criticized the GOP-drafted resolution for praising controversial legislation, including the USA Patriot Act and a border security bill. Some faulted it for stating "the nation is safer than it was on Sept. 11, 2001."
"I disagree with that, and I think a great many people disagree with it, because all of the evidence points in the other direction. We are not safer today than we were," said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called the criticism "cheap demagoguery."
Republicans defended the inclusion of the GOP-crafted security laws and bills. Without them, said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., "We would not be here today without having suffered another attack on our soil."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., disputed the idea that terrorism dangers had grown. "Five years after 9/11, America is safer and much more alert to the dangers that lurk in the darker corners of our world," he said.
Democrats, flanked by foreign policy experts from Democratic administrations past, argued that President Bush's failures call for a change in congressional leadership. They outlined plans to withdraw some troops from Iraq by the end of this year and improve the security of trains, ports, subways and planes.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who supports an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, said officials sitting on their "fat backsides in the Oval Office" and elsewhere in Washington should stop making excuses for poor planning in Iraq. He called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, while acknowledging a resolution to remove him would probably never get a vote.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, owed Democrats an apology for questioning Tuesday whether Democrats "are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called on Senate Republicans to distance themselves from the statement.
Republicans took issue with something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters last week about Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden. "He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done is done. And even to capture him now I don't think makes us any safer," she said.
A Pelosi spokesman said her words were no different from those made by some Republicans, who have said that if bin Laden were captured or killed, it wouldn't remove the threat posed by the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said the statements are different. "That quote clearly indicates a misunderstanding of how important and what a symbol Usama bin Laden is," he said.