Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Democrats accuse Bush of exploiting 9/11 speech

Democrats accuse Bush of exploiting 9/11 speech
By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Democrats on Tuesday accused President Bush of exploiting the September 11 anniversary to boost his faltering Iraq war policy and asked TV networks to give them balancing coverage in future.

"Until now, there has been a complete absence of balance in the news coverage of national security issues," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to the major networks as both parties jockeyed for position in the November 7 congressional elections.

"We ask that you commit your network to providing fair and equitable coverage to the viewpoints of both Republicans and Democrats," the two Democratic leaders wrote.

Democrats said Bush should have tried to recapture a spirit of national unity in his televised Oval Office on Monday, but instead sought to score political points and boost his party's sagging approval ratings.

Reid told reporters Democrats had been so confident the Republican Bush would be nonpartisan that they had not sought equal time on television to offer their party's response.

"Sadly, it was a missed opportunity for President Bush, who apparently was more consumed by staying the course in Iraq and playing election year politics," Reid said, accusing Bush of once again trying to "conflate and blur the war in Iraq with the response to 9/11."

Pelosi said, "The American people deserved an opportunity to grieve and come together as a nation last night. Instead President Bush gave them partisan and inaccurate rhetoric."

Republicans struck back, saying it was the Democrats who had injected politics into a national day of remembrance.

"I listen to my Democratic friends and I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people," House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters.

Bush had raised partisan ire by saying in his Oval Office address that "whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone."

"The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," he said in the address to mark five years since the suicide attacks by al Qaeda hijackers that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Reid and Pelosi, in their letter to the networks, wrote: "We write to you today to request that if you plan to continue to devote extensive live coverage to the President's national security speeches ... you similarly provide substantial coverage to the national security events and statements of House and Senate Democrats."

With polls showing the war to be unpopular, Democrats are widely expected to pick up seats in both the House and Senate in November's congressional elections, possibly seizing a majority from the Republicans in one or both chambers.

Bush has tried to frame the elections as a debate over national security. Democrats counter that the Iraq war is a distraction from the war on terrorism rather than a part of it and question whether America is any safer now.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said: "The president took pains yesterday not to be partisan, and that was the appropriate thing to do." He said it was the Democrats who seized on the September 11 anniversary to talk about Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro)