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Post-Sept. 11:  US Congress Returns to Bi-Partisanship - 2002-09-04

In the weeks immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Congress was united behind President Bush as he waged his war on terrorism. But a year later, Democrats are attacking administration policies and complaining that they are not being consulted about the President's war plans.

It was Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle who, shortly after September 11, pledged to act on President Bush's anti-terrorism initiatives with speed.

But it did not take long for the South Dakota Democrat to start raising questions about the administration's war on terrorism including its campaign to crackdown on members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. "Clearly we have got to find Mullah Omar, we have got to find Osama bin Laden, and we have got to find other key leaders of the al-Qaida network, or we will have failed," he said.

As months passed, Democrats began complaining that the administration was not consulting Congress on homeland security proposals and war plans, including the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Among the most vocal critics has been Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. "For all of their blustering about how al-Qaida is determined to strike at our freedoms, this administration shows little appreciation little appreciation for the Constitution, little appreciation for the Constitutional doctrine, and processes that have preserved those freedoms for more than two centuries," said Mr. Byrd. "This administration has made clear its intent to reassert executive authority, and to date it has aggressively tried to curtail Congress' powers of oversight."

Senator Daschle agreed, and made clear he would not hand President Bush a blank check to wage the war on terrorism. "I will not, and I do not think anyone should be a rubber stamp, should simply without questions approve everything any administration asks."

Republicans, traditionally seen by the public as the stronger party on defense issues, quickly seized on the Democrats' rhetoric.

In an interview on public television's Newshour, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi warned that Democrats' criticism could hurt international cooperation in the war against terrorism. "I think when you are at war and when you have lives on the line, and when there are people around the world who would be happy to see us begin to break apart and not continue to be supportive of this effort," he said. "I think that undermines our effort to hold our coalitions together, to build coalitions, when they look at America, and say 'oh yes, they are tough for about three months', but then after that they go back to their old ways. I think that is an unhelpful message to be sending overseas."

Political analysts play down the controversy, saying it is not surprising that Democrats who control the Senate are criticizing Republican administration policies.

Observers, including Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution in Washington, argue that more problematic for the administration is the split among Republicans over whether the United States should invade Iraq. "The criticism, to the degree there has been criticism in the United States, has not necessarily been along party lines at all," he said.

Mr. Hess notes that some Republican lawmakers favor giving weapons inspections another chance something that other Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, indicated they believe would be a waste of time.

But Mr. Hess believes that ultimately Mr. Bush will get bipartisan congressional support for the rest of his anti-terrorism agenda including any possible military action in Iraq. He argues that, if the President makes a compelling case for toppling Saddam Hussein, Republicans and Democrats will back the mission.

Lawmakers of both parties agree.