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The Democrats' Fine Whine

Tom Daschle misrepresents the president, and complains about mixing politics with Iraq.

12:00 AM, Sep 27, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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THE DEMOCRATIC WHINERS--who have been free to state their policy on Iraq since the president threw down the gauntlet in his Axis of Evil speech eight months ago--are misrepresenting both his recent statements and their own.

On Tuesday, Tom Daschle chastised the president for allegedly saying that "the Democratic-controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people." "I can't believe," Daschle said, quivering with anger, "any president or any administration would politicize the war. . . . This has got to end, Mr. President."

What the president really said was this: "I asked Congress to give me the flexibility necessary to be able to deal with the true threats of the 21st century by being able to move the right people to the right place at the right time, so we can better assure America we're doing everything possible. The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President, and future Presidents, to better keep the American people secure."

Bush was, of course, talking about the new Department of Homeland Security, not the war. Never mind, Daschle told reporters after his speech, "I don't care whether you are talking about homeland security, I don't think you can talk about Iraq, you can't talk about war, you can't talk about any context that justifies a political comment like that. This is politicization, pure and simple."

But why does Daschle think that the president is "politicizing" the war by pressing the issue with Congress? You'll recall that in the middle of August, the Bush administration was prepared to keep the decision to move against Iraq completely separated from the political process. A good case can be made that they didn't need congressional approval to act, that the president's legal mandate lay in the 1991 Gulf War resolution. When the White House pointed this out, it was congressional Democrats who insisted that the president consult them.

Representative Leonard Boswell said, "I think Congress ought to be included." Senator Ben Nelson cautioned, "It should not be a unilateral decision." Nita Lowey said, "I think this administration has a very clear responsibility to consult with the Congress." "The Constitution says that Congress has the sole power to declare war," Russ Feingold added. It would be "an affront to Congress and to the American people" if Congress wasn't consulted. Representative Jim McDermott suggested, "If he can't get the support of his own Congress, then it's really George Bush being the Lone Ranger."

A whole slew of Democrats wanted the president to ask their opinion: Richard Gephardt, Ike Skelton, Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, Jay Inslee, Norm Dicks, and on and on and on.

Tom Daschle, too. In August his spokesman said, "The issue is whether the president should seek to obtain the full support of the American people and their elected representatives before sending U.S. troops into combat in Iraq."

Daschle and the Democrats have gotten exactly what they asked for. By all indications, the administration is looking to move against Iraq this winter. Which means that if the president was going to have a serious consultation with Congress--one where he brought them up to speed on information and debated the fine points of a resolution--he had to do it now. If he had waited till after the election, he would have been faced with a lame-duck Congress, and then, once they reconvened in January, any consultation would have been pro forma, since the planning for the war would be in the very final stages.

If Democrats were serious this summer about wanting consultation, they should be overjoyed now. That they're throwing tantrums in the well of the Senate suggests that they have been the ones keeping politics in mind all along.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.