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Background: Political Wrap

March 1, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The tempest began stirring midweek with the first substantial public criticism of President Bush’s antiterror campaign from senior Senate Democrats.

Robert Byrd, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, worried about the cost: “We seem to be good at developing entrance strategies, not so good at developing exit strategies. If we expect to kill every terrorist in the world, that’s going to keep us going beyond doomsday. How long can we afford this?”

Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the Bush Administration: should lay out a strategy. “People are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for a while if they… have a real plan. The longer the time moves on and the less you see of the details of the plan, you’re going to hear more and more people – Democrat and Republican – saying, ‘Whoa, wait a minute.'”

Yesterday, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle stood by the sentiments of his colleagues and made comments of his own.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I have said all along we need to ask the tough questions. There may be support in general for the President’s request for defense, but somebody’s got to ask tough questions and no one does a better job of that than Senator Byrd.

KWAME HOLMAN: Daschle also set a marker for measuring success.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Clearly, we’ve got to find Mohammed Omar, we’ve got to find Osama bin Laden, and we’ve got to find other key leaders of the al-Qaida network, or we will have failed. I think that it’s critical that we keep the pressure on, we do the job that this country is committed to doing. But we’re not safe until we have broken the back of al-Qaida, and we haven’t done that yet.

KWAME HOLMAN: Immediately after Daschle spoke, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott issued a statement saying: “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field.” Daschle’s office responded, saying: “Some have chosen to characterize remarks Senator Daschle made this morning on the war on terrorism as critical of President Bush.

In fact, the transcript of Senator Daschle’s remarks indicates no criticism of President Bush or his campaign against terrorism.” Nonetheless, on the NewsHour last night, Senator Lott again challenged Daschle’s comments.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: Any crack in the show of support for our commander in chief on this war I think is not helpful. We also need to be supportive of the necessary funds for the defense budget. Should the Congress raise questions about, okay, do you need all of this and exactly how is this going to be used, surely that’s part of our job. But if you say that, if we don’t get bin Laden, if we don’t get Mullah Omar, then it has been a failure, or begin to raise questions about what was needed to do this job, I think it is not helpful.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, Senator Daschle was quizzed again by reporters.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I think the Republicans’ reaction is nothing short of hysterical. I’m amused, frankly. I’d ask them to look at what I said, because I stand by what I said. The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to ask questions. We are not a rubber stamp to this President or to anybody else. We must do what the Constitution and what our best judgment requires, and we’ll continue to do that.

KWAME HOLMAN: At an event in Iowa today, the President himself was asked about the Democratic criticism of the cost and pace of the antiterror effort.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think most Americans understand that… that it’s going to… this is a… that it’s going to take a while to achieve all our objectives; that by far, the vast majority of Americans are patient. They know when you’re looking for one person who may be hiding in a cave, it may take a while.