Congress has returned to work after a long summer break, as Republicans and Democrats begin a hectic few weeks of legislative activity before leaving again to campaign for November congressional elections. Pre-election politics loom over the remaining days of the current congressional session, with both major political parties seeking to use Iraq and national security issues to gain the upper hand.
As the Senate reconvened, and with the House resuming work on Wednesday, congressional Democrats and Republicans made clear they consider Iraq and security issues pivotal in the upcoming elections.
With public opinion polls still showing Republicans and President Bush suffering politically from the situation in Iraq, Democratic leaders took to the microphones to launch their latest criticisms.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid offered the core of a Democratic strategy attempting to portray Bush policy failures in Iraq as destabilizing the Middle East, encouraging a nuclear-ambitious North Korea, and weakening the U.S. military.
"The facts do not lie," he said. "Under the Bush administration and this Republican Congress, America is less safe, facing greater threats, and unprepared for a dangerous world in which we live."
Reid and other Senate Democrats will propose a resolution this week calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer provided a preview of debate on that issue, referring to recent remarks by Rumsfeld saying critics of President Bush on Iraq have failed to learn lessons from World War II.
"I don't think staying the course with a failing policy in Iraq has anything to do with appeasing the Nazis before World War II," she said. "Get with the current moment Mr. Secretary and Mr. President. Let's get a fresh face over at the Department of Defense. Let's move forward with hope. Let's move forward with a plan.
In response, House and Senate Republicans accused Democrats of trying to politicize the Iraq issue for their own gain.
House Republican Leader John Boehner told reporters he will try to block any such resolution from reaching the House floor.
Boehner referred to Democrats as Defeatocrats, going on to accuse the minority of helping embolden terrorists.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says Democrats have weakened the government's powers in the war on terrorism and homeland security, while playing politics with Iraq.
"I think it is a pure political game at the same time [that] we are trying to address the very serious issues of port security [and] making sure that our government and our representatives have the tools to fight this war on terror, to make sure the money flows like the bill we have today to support our troops overseas," he said. "And if they want to inject a purely partisan political amendment or resolution I will address it."
The exchanges over Iraq and Secretary Rumsfeld's performance came as President Bush uses a series of speeches to urge Americans to support his approach in Iraq and in the war on terrorism.
"These radicals have declared their uncompromising hostility to freedom," he said. "It is foolish to think that you can negotiate with them."
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell responds to Democratic criticisms that Iraq has diverted U.S. attention away from the fight against al-Qaida.
"Iraq according to [prominent al-Qaida leader Ayman] Al-Zawahiri is the central front in the war on terror and we agree with him," he said. "I don't know why people can't accept what he is saying. It has become the place to fight the war on terror."
Republican leaders project an end-of-September date for adjourning to prepare for the November mid-term congressional elections.
They have crafted an agenda emphasizing security and defense-related bills, including Senate action on defense legislation, and bills on terrorist interrogation policies and domestic anti-terrorist surveillance.
However, Congress will be unable to complete major government appropriations bills before the November election, requiring lawmakers to reconvene in mid-November to finish up business of the 109th Congress.
President Bush's goal of signing a comprehensive immigration bill before Americans vote for a new Congress will not be met, although Republican leader Boehner vowed to get a strong border security-related bill to the House floor.
Next week, both chambers of Congress will mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with resolutions honoring victims and families.