The White House is defending presidential adviser Karl Rove against Democratic demands that he apologize or quit for implying that liberals are soft on the Sept. 11 attackers and other terrorists.
Congressional Republicans 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, was the latest of several highly contentious battles that have soured the already highly partisan atmosphere.
Earlier this week Sen. Dick Durbin, 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, 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.
Democrats: 'A slap in the face'
“It was a slap in the face to the unity that America achieved after Sept. 11, 2001,” New York Sen. Charles Schumer wrote in a letter to Rove, co-signed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic senators from Connecticut and New Jersey.
The six Democrats asked Rove to “immediately retract the unfortunate and divisive comments.” House Democrats, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote a similar letter.
At a news conference, the senators went further, saying Rove should either apologize or resign. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed that stance, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a floor speech that Bush should at the very least exact an apology from his political adviser. “Frankly, he should fire him,” Kerry said.
Democrats stressed that they were nearly unanimous in supporting Bush in congressional votes on his response to the Sept. 11 attacks and his decision to go to war in Afghanistan.
White House: No need for Rove to apologize
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said 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.
“I think what Karl Rove said is accurate and reflects a big difference between the two parties,” added Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman.
“I think they (Democrats) have a pre-9/11 world view and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons President Bush was re-elected because the American people understood they wanted a president and a philosophy that took on the terrorists abroad to keep us safer at home and guide our ways,” he said.
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 Iraq.
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.”
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Clinton urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to repudiate the “insulting comment.”
Rumsfeld replied that it “is unfortunate when things become so polarized or so politicized.”