Democratic Party chief Howard Dean predicted Saturday that Republicans would make illegal immigrants their new scapegoats during the 2006 elections, and said splintered Democrats were starting to find common ground on the Iraq war.
At a Democratic National Committee meeting, Dean criticized the Republican emphasis on illegal immigration and ridiculed President Bush's recent tough talk about stronger enforcement of border security.
He said Republicans exploited the topic of gay marriage in the 2004 elections with a series of state referendums on the issue, and were at it again with another hot-button social issue in immigration.
"In 2006, it's going to be immigrants — that's who he is going to scapegoat next," Dean said of Bush. "Once again, the Republicans create a problem so they can think to come in and solve it."
Dean, whose strong antiwar stance fueled his presidential campaign in 2004, said Democrats were beginning to rally around a "strategic redeployment" approach in Iraq that would phase out U.S. troops and make Americans safer while there.
Congressional Democrats, nervous about the ramifications of an issue likely to top the agenda in the 2006 elections, have shown no sign of agreement on the war and bickered openly during the week about the right path.
The redeployment plan would offer another approach to Democrats torn between the idea of setting a hard withdrawal timetable or waiting until more Iraqi security forces are ready for duty.
"It shows how we ought to strategically redeploy our troops, including sending our National Guardsmen home," Dean said of a report on the strategy published by the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress. "The Democrats now have a vision around ... which we're starting to coalesce."
Phased troop reduction
The plan includes a phased drawdown of U.S. troops through 2006 and 2007 and a redeployment away from high-risk urban areas, with Iraqi troops taking over the security efforts there.
Dean said it would allow Americans to "protect ourselves against terrorism, which the president invited into Iraq with his actions, and at the same time stop making our own troops a target."
Dean criticized Bush's speech Wednesday that improvements in Iraqi security forces could clear the way for a reduction in U.S. troops there.
"If the president had taken the advice of his military men before he went there instead of showing us his strategic plan for Iraq three years after he got there, he would be better off today," Dean said. "We have seen the hollow promises of this Republican administration."
The speech to the full Democratic National Committee was the first for Dean since he took the helm of the committee in February.
He said Democrats would offer voters tangible reforms and proposals on health care, education and national security.
"Our party is the party that believes we're all in this together," he said. "Their party is the party of self-absorption and selfishness."