SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I, too, was astounded to read this story in the Washington Post this morning.
KWAME HOLMAN: West Virginia's Robert Byrd was one of several Democrats who came to the Senate floor this morning and reacted angrily to a Washington Post story. It portrayed a White House strategy to use talk of war and the threat of terrorism to better Republican chances in the upcoming elections.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Four times in the past two days, Bush has suggested that Democrats do not care about national security.
KWAME HOLMAN: The last time was on Monday in New Jersey just before the President attended a fund-raiser for Doug Forrester, the Republican challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Are we to believe this; are we to believe that this President said this?
KWAME HOLMAN: Most visibly angry was Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: "Not interested in the security of the American people"? You tell Senator Inoue he is not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous, outrageous. The President ought to apologize to Senator Inoue and every veteran who fought in every war who is a Democrat in the United States Senate. He ought to apologize to the American people. That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about war in life and death.
KWAME HOLMAN: As Democrats were erupting on Capitol Hill, the President was at the White House, being asked about the role of war and terrorism in politics.
REPORTER: So it's a legitimate political issue?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It's a legitimate national security concern is what it is. You may try to politicize it. I view it as my main obligation. That is to protect the American people. It's the most important job this President will have, and it's the most important job future Presidents will have because the nature of war has changed. We're vulnerable.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said he was disturbed by the Democrats' statements.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I'm really deeply saddened by the tenor and tone of the remarks that my friend the Majority Leader had to say this morning on the administration's conduct in Iraq. We live in grave times, when this body should be carefully and deliberately debating the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose against the United States. Instead we heard accusations that a President of the United States is using the possible of war for political purposes. Madam President, who is the enemy here? The President of the United States? Or Saddam Hussein?
KWAME HOLMAN: And at the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer insisted the President had been misquoted and misunderstood.
ARI FLEISCHER: The President never in that speech referred to the Democratic controlled Senate.
KWAME HOLMAN: But reporters pressed Fleischer on the President's exact words.
REPORTER: Did you mean to say that the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people?
ARI FLEISCHER: The President is states telling fact, that unless and until this passes, the Senate will not have acted in the interest of the security of the American people. Homeland security is just that. It is the security of the American people.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was former Vice President Al Gore who became the first high-profile Democrat to suggest the President was using war rhetoric for political advantage during a speech in San Francisco on Monday.
AL GORE: Rather than making efforts to dispel concern at home and abroad about the role of politics in the timing of policy, the President is publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a "no" vote. The Republican National Committee is running prepackaged advertising based on the same theme.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Gore also was critical of Democrats, many of whom have been reluctant to question the President's call for action against Iraq.
AL GORE: For shortening of deliberations in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of exactly what may lie before us. Such consideration is all the more important because the administration has failed thus far to lay out an assessment of how it thinks the course of a war will run.
KWAME HOLMAN: The partisan accusations come as the two parties try to find compromise on a bill to create a Homeland Security Department and on a resolution authorizing the President to take action against Iraq.