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Democrats Accuse Bush of Politicizing Iraq Debate - 2002-09-25

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Wednesday unleashed a political firestorm when he accused President Bush of politicizing a possible war against Iraq. He is demanding Mr. Bush apologize for implying that Democrats are not concerned about the nation's security.

Senator Daschle accused Mr. Bush of trying to use possible war against Iraq to score political points for Republicans ahead of November's Congressional elections.

The angry South Dakota Democrat noted Mr. Bush is quoted in the Washington Post saying the Democrat-led Senate is, 'not interested in the security of the American people.' "He ought to apologize to the American people," he said. "That is wrong! We ought not politicize this war."

Republicans including Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona warned Mr. Daschle and other Democrats that such rhetoric could undermine the effort to mobilize U.S. and international consensus on the Iraq issue. "I do not believe we ought go be raising questions or throwing around allegations that undercut what ought to be a common effort from everybody in this country as well as this body to ensure that we have the kind of consensus that we will be able to prosecute whatever war we prosecute in a way that enjoys support both here in the United States and abroad," said Senator Kyl.

At the White House, President Bush denied trying to use possible war against Iraq for political gain. "You may try to politicize it," he said. "I view it as my main obligation, that is to protect the American people."

White House aides say the President's criticism did not concern possible war on Iraq, but the homeland security bill, which is stalled in the Senate over Democrats' demands for labor union protections.

That prompted another angry response from Senator Daschle late Wednesday. "What context is there that legitimizes the accusation of that kind? I do not care if you are talking about homeland security," said Tom Daschle. "I do not think you can talk about Iraq, you cannot talk about war, you cannot talk about any context that justifies a political comment like that. This is politicization pure and simple."

Despite the controversy, Mr. Daschle said he hopes to reach a compromise with the administration on a congressional resolution giving Mr. Bush the authority to use force against Iraq. But some Democrats are concerned about the possibility of U.S. action against Iraq without the endorsement of the United Nations.