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Democratic Lawmakers Blast Venezuelan Leader for Bush Insults

Remarks this week by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who hurled insults at President Bush, brought a response on Thursday from congressional Democrats. VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill reports on the curious defense of the president from two key Democrats who said they resented the Venezuelan leader's behavior on American soil.

When Charlie Rangel calls a news conference, it's usually to criticize President Bush and others in his administration on everything from domestic economic and social issues, to Iraq.

But the veteran New York lawmaker paused before addressing reporters to watch a U.S. television network broadcast live remarks by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Harlem, the district in New York City that Rangel represents.

Earlier this week, the Venezuelan leader antagonized many Americans when he used his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York to hurl insults at President Bush, who he called a devil.

President Chavez continued his verbal tirades on Thursday, using an appearance at the Mount Olive Baptist church in Harlem to call President Bush, in the Venezuelan leader's words, "an alcoholic and a sick man."

Congressman Rangel says the Venezuelan president should understand that however critical of President Bush he and other Democrats are, nothing justifies the kind of personal attacks made this week:

"He has to understand that while we have problems politically sometimes with President Bush, that he is still our president and that we resent foreigners coming and condemning our president, whether it is at the United Nations or whether it is in my congressional district," said Charles Rangel.

Earlier, the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, had this angry reaction to the Venezuelan president:

"Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had speaking at the U.N," said Nancy Pelosi. "In doing so, in the manner which he characterized the president, he demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela. Hugo Chavez fancies himself as a modern day Simon Bolivar, but all he is an everyday thug."

The interesting defenses of the president come as congressional Democrats are otherwise ramping up criticisms of Mr. Bush on foreign and domestic policy issues just a few weeks before November mid-term legislative elections.

Republican congressional leaders offered no similar high profile responses to Chavez. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, dismissed the Chavez remarks saying they didn't warrant a response.

The Venezuelan president coupled his new insult of President Bush with the announcement that Venezuela will double the amount of discounted heating oil shipping to the United States to assist low-income Americans in the winter.

Chavez has described the heating oil program as a way to help poor Americans neglected by the U.S. government.

U.S. officials say it is politically-motivated and aimed at trying to burnish Chavez' image with Americans and help boost his credibility at home.