Thursday, July 14, 2005

From The Hill

Sen. Kerry is wielding a double-edged sword

Sen. John Kerry is facing a dilemma.

With an eye towards running for president again in 2008, the Massachusetts Democrat has positioned himself as one of the most pugnacious critics of the Bush administration, often aligning himself with liberal activists. But at times, his aggressive anti-Bush rhetoric risks alienating other parts of his own party.

Kerry’s predicament was apparent this week as he took the lead among Democrats by calling for President Bush to fire his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, for Rove’s alleged role in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

At a press conference Tuesday on homeland security, as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) nodded in agreement, Kerry said: “Karl Rove ought to be fired.” Kerry also circulated a “fire Rove” petition yesterday through his leadership political action committee to nearly 3 million Democratic activists.

“We need you to recruit your friends and neighbors to sign our Fire Rove petition today to show that Americans will not tolerate White House dirty tricks that compromise our national security,” Kerry wrote in an e-mail.

“What we have seen from Kerry since the election is that he’s more aggressive and more pugnacious,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University, said “Kerry has been among the most vociferous critics of the Bush administration since the election.

West noted that Kerry grilled Condoleezza Rice during her Senate confirmation and “voted against several Bush administration initiatives.”

But while Kerry has had the support of Clinton and many other Democrats on the Rove issue, his colleagues have left him out on a limb as he has championed other causes of the liberal wing of the party.

Shortly before the recess, Kerry wrote to Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, urging the committee to complete its investigation related to the infamous Downing Street memo, which liberal critics claim as proof that Bush had predetermined his decision to invade Iraq.

But Kerry could only garner signatures from nine colleagues, despite circulating the letter to the entire Democratic caucus.

Kerry urged Roberts and Rockefeller to complete “phase two” of the committee’s probe on prewar intelligence. Roberts and Rockefeller had agreed to break the investigation into two parts: phase one, which focused on the intelligence community’s information gathering, and phase two, which is to target the Bush administration’s use of intelligence and the pressure the administration may have exerted on analysts.

As a concession to Republicans, Rockefeller agreed to conduct the more politically sensitive second phase after last year’s election.

Citing the Downing Street memo, Kerry exhorted his colleagues not to let the second half of the probe languish.

“The committee’s efforts have taken on renewed urgency, given recent revelations in the United Kingdom regarding the apparent minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior national security advisors,” Kerry wrote. “These minutes — known as the ‘Downing Street Memo’ — raise troubling questions about the use of intelligence by American policy makers.”

Only one member of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jon Corzine (D), who is running for governor in blue-state New Jersey, signed on to the letter. It received no mainstream-media attention, but several liberal blogs, such as Talking Points Memo and, wrote about Kerry’s effort.

Senate observers such as West said that Kerry is catering to liberal activists who view the Downing Street memo as a “smoking gun” showing that Bush was so determined to invade Iraq that he and his advisers believed faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities.

“I think Kerry is playing to the base,” West said. “He understands that liberals are just absolutely furious with Bush over the war. And they see the Downing Street memo as prima facie evidence of deceit within the administration and he hasn’t ruled out running for president in 2008.”
By criticizing Bush and championing issues popular with members of liberal organizations such as, Kerry seems to be taking a path similar to one trod by former Vice President Al Gore after he lost the 2000 election to Bush.

But while liberal activists have been energized over the Downing Street memo, other Democratic senators and major newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have not.

For example, last month, gathered more than 500,000 signatures on a petition “demanding that President Bush provide a detailed response to the smoking-gun evidence in the Downing Street memos of deceptions about the war in Iraq,” according to a press release.

The Downing Street issue has drawn more support from House Democrats. House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) delivered the petition to the White House and held a mock hearing on the memo.

But Senate Democrats have kept their distance, despite Kerry’s work.

“I suspect it is a strategic decision on the part of Democrats that there are a certain core set of issues they want to put their capital into and this is not one of them,” Ornstein said. “Part of it is it’s rehashing history.”

A Democratic Senate aide said, “Either they sold it very poorly, or the caucus isn’t interested. My guess they just sold it poorly.”


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