Democrats are accusing Republicans of going too far in their criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the attempted Christmas Day terror attack, saying the GOP is blatantly exploiting the failed bombing of an airliner to gain the upper hand in the 2010 midterm elections.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., referred to the incident in a fundraising pitch for his gubernatorial campaign. Other GOP lawmakers have blanketed the airwaves to criticize the administration's response to the incident and the failure to identify the suspect as a terror suspect in advance. Former Vice President Dick Cheney accused President Obama of pretending the United States is not at war. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., has called for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to resign.
Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that now is not the time for politics.
"The problem is that the no-fly list should have included this young man and it is total incompetence that it did not -- so rather than politicize this issue, I think we should fix the problem.... This is not an election issue in my opinion, nor should it be," Andrews said.
"It's simply shameful that House Republicans continue to play politics on issues of national security and terrorism, especially considering they repeatedly refuse to back up their tough talk with actual votes to keep Americans safe," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a statement Wednesday.
Republicans carried the 2004 elections, both in Congress and the White House, in large part by portraying themselves as the national security party -- and they no doubt see an opening to develop that theme in the new year. In the wake of last week's failed attack, they are building on their long-standing criticism of Obama as a weak-on-terror president in a weak-on-terror party.
"They just don't get it," Hoekstra wrote in his fundraising letter. "But then again, these are the same weak-kneed liberals who have recently tried to bring Guantanamo Bay terrorists right here to Michigan!"
Democrats cringe at such statements. The Obama administration argues that Guantanamo is still a terror recruitment symbol that needs to be closed. Yet the Republicans' barbed rhetoric has served to lure the Democrats into the same political fray, and they are responding by blaming Republicans for security shortfalls.
Van Hollen pointed fingers in his statement Wednesday.
After Cheney told Politico.com that Obama is "trying to pretend we are not at war" with terrorists, the White House fired back with a litany of charges against the Bush administration.
"While our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq ... Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog.
"Meanwhile, Al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against Al Qaeda."
Pfeiffer said it "seems strangely off-key" for Cheney to be attacking Obama on this issue.
"This president is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action," Pfeiffer wrote. "Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country."
Republicans say the failure to prevent the attempted attack and the administration's initial claim that the "system worked" are proof of the administration's low-key approach to terrorism. They point to the attempted bombing in renewing arguments that the president should not be closing down Guantanamo Bay, should not be investigating the CIA over its harsh interrogation practices and should not be trying Sept. 11 terror suspects in federal court.
"The administration's response following this attempted attack is consistent with its dangerous decision to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay and bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 terrorists to trial in the United States through civilian courts," House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement. "All year long, Republicans have asked the question: what is this Administration's overarching strategy to confront the terrorist threat and keep America safe?"