St. Petersburg Times
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Republicans sharply criticize Daschle

©Associated Press
March 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Republicans denounced Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle on Tuesday for his criticism of President Bush with the nation on the brink of war. Daschle stood by his remarks.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the comments "may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close." Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said, "I was stunned into disbelief."

In a speech Monday, Daschle, of South Dakota, said he was "saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." He spoke shortly after the Bush administration stopped pursuing a new U.N. resolution authorizing a war against Iraq and hours before Bush set a 48-hour deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave the country.

Other Democrats also have criticized Bush's handling of the situation. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a presidential candidate, said the administration "could not possibly have been more inept or self-defeating. President Bush has clumsily and arrogantly squandered the post 9/11 support and goodwill of the entire civilized world."

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin said the war's "long-term aftermath will leave us more isolated than we have been in the last two centuries by abandoning our long-standing position against striking first unless we are immediately and directly threatened."

At a news conference Tuesday, Daschle compared Bush's diplomatic efforts with those of Bush's father in the Persian Gulf War, when allies provided many troops and paid for most of the costs.

"I don't know that anyone in this country could view what we have seen so far as a diplomatic success," said Daschle, who voted for the resolution last year authorizing war if necessary.

Daschle said he would continue to speak out. "I think to do anything less is unpatriotic."

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "Our men and women literally are in a countdown before fighting is initiated, and any remarks that their lives in some way have been compromised by the president of the United States is irresponsible."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Daschle's remarks were inconsistent given past statements Daschle had made about the inevitability of using force and about "not politicizing the rhetoric."

Democrats backed Daschle. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the No. 2 Democrat, said Daschle "simply said that he thought diplomacy did not work and I think there are others saying that. People who are saying that certainly aren't unpatriotic. They are just expressing an opinion."

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