WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a measure condemning MoveOn.org for a newspaper ad it ran last week attacking Gen. David Petraeus. The move came as President Bush accused Democrats of cowering to the liberal political action group.
The measure passed in a 72-25 vote, with none of the Democratic presidential candidates supporting it. Sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, never one to shy away from forcing Democrats to go on record on politically sticky issues, the amendment to the defense authorization bill did win the backing of 23 Democrats.
Sens. Joe Biden and Barack Obama were absent from the vote, though Obama had voted 20 minutes earlier on a Democratic effort to circumvent the amendment. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd voted against the measure.
The amendment did not specifically name MoveOn.org, but expressed "the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, commanding general, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn(s) personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces."
But supporters made clear the measure was about MoveOn, and was aimed at giving senators "a chance to distance themselves from the notion that some group has them on a leash, like a puppet on a string."
"Who would have ever expected anybody to go after a general in the field at a time of war, launch a smear campaign against a man we've entrusted with our mission in Iraq?" Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked on the Senate floor. "Any group that does this sort of thing ought to be condemned. Let's take sides. General Petraeus or MoveOn.org. Which one are we going to believe? Which one are we going to condemn?"
Partisans also took the opportunity to slam Clinton and Obama for not voting on the amendment.
"Senators Clinton and Obama need to decide whether they’re running for America, or running for MoveOn.org. If Clinton and Obama cannot bring themselves to take a stand against a vicious attack on the man leading our forces in Iraq, why should American voters believe they are capable of demonstrating the leadership we need in a commander in chief?” said Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan.
"Hillary Clinton had a choice. She could stand with our troop commander in Iraq, or she could stand with the libelous left wing of her party. She chose the latter. The idea that she would be a credible commander-in-chief of our Armed Forces requires the willing suspension of disbelief," said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In response to Senate passage of the amendment, MoveOn officials said the group was going to buy TV ad time to attack McConnell, R-Ky., and other senators who voted against a measure offered a day earlier by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb to require troops to have equal down time at home as they have deployed in war zones. The measure failed.
"No wonder public approval of Congress is tanking. They’re so out of touch with reality that they can find time to condemn an ad but they can't do what most Americans want — vote to end this war," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action.
Over in the House, one Republican leader asked when that chamber will take up similar legislation. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he had no intention of bringing up the GOP's resolution.
"Denouncing this unconscionable assault on Gen. Petraeus integrity in a bipartisan manner would signal to the American people that these tactics have no place in our political discourse. True leadership means standing up for whats right — now is the time for Democrats in the House to demonstrate the capacity for that leadership," Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, responded in a statement.
The Senate vote followed a statement by Bush during a press conference at the White House in which he argued that Democrats are more concerned about riling MoveOn than about riling the U.S. military.
"I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad, and that leads me to come to this kind of conclusion: That most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org — are more afraid of irritating them — than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal," the president said.
"And (it's) one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like Gen. Petraeus," Bush said.
Pariser responded to the president, saying Bush lied about the cause for war in Iraq.
"What's disgusting is that the president has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war," Pariser said. "The president has no credibility on Iraq: he lied repeatedly to the American people to get us into the war. ... Right now, there are about 168,000 American soldiers in Iraq, caught in the crossfire of that country's unwinnable civil war, and the president has betrayed their trust and the trust of the American people."
FOX News' Molly Hooper contributed to this report.