Dick Armey plays the al-Qaida card

The GOP majority leader says the terrorist group is efficient because Tom Daschle isn't running it. Enraged Demos demand an apology.

By Edward W. Lempinen

Published October 18, 2002 11:55PM (EDT)

Congress is working overtime, the elections are drawing near, and when the U.S. Senate failed again Thursday to break a stalemate over a bill to create the Department of Homeland Security, House Majority Leader Dick Armey arrived at a conclusion that seemed, to him, perfectly sensible: The al-Qaida terrorist network is more efficient than the Senate led by South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle.

"Why is it that al-Qaida, this ragtag bunch of terrorists scattered all over the globe, can reorganize themselves ... and the U.S. government cannot reorganize itself?" the Texas Republican mused in remarks captured by Reuters. "(The) difference is al-Qaida doesn't have a Senate, al-Qaida doesn't have a Senator Daschle that has other focuses. Al Qaida has got a clear focus."

In defense of Daschle, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe quickly fired up a response:

"Just when you think Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey's behavior couldn't be any more partisan or his rhetoric any more intemperate, he surprises you ...

"Congressman Armey owes Senator Daschle and the American people an apology for comparing the United States Senate unfavorably to al-Qaida in order to politicize a legitimate policy debate.

"While President Bush embarks on a three-week-long fundraising and campaigning binge, Senator Daschle is keeping the United States Senate in overtime to get Homeland Security legislation passed.

"Unfortunately, devotion to a right-wing ideology and a grasp for political advantage are standing in the way of passing the Homeland Security bill. Republicans have voted five times to support the right wing's filibuster of Homeland Security and deny an up or down vote on this legislation. The fact is that if the Senate Republicans would allow the Senate to vote on the Homeland Security bill, it would pass today.

"Congressman Armey's focus on this issue is clear. It was Democrats who proposed a Homeland Security Department over a year ago, and the Bush White House that opposed this effort for more than eight months. It was not until this summer, under pressure from the public, that the White House finally reversed its stance and agreed to support the creation of a Homeland Security Department.

"Unfortunately, Congressman Armey's political exploitation of the Homeland Security issue is not an isolated event. Just two days ago, the chairman of the Republican National Committee [Montana Gov. Marc Racicot] publicly encouraged Republican candidates to use it as an issue in their campaigns.

"If President Bush is sincere in wanting to enact this legislation, he should call on Congressman Armey to apologize for his remarks. Moreover, he should put off his own political travel and join Senator Daschle in working to convince Senate Republicans to put their right-wing ideological concerns and political objectives aside, drop their filibuster, and support the Homeland Security bill."

Both houses must pass the measure before it can be sent to President Bush for a signature.

Edward W. Lempinen

Edward W. Lempinen is a senior news editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Edward W. Lempinen

Related Topics ------------------------------------------