Democrats demanded an apology from top White House adviser Karl Rove on Thursday for saying liberals responded weakly to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a request quickly rejected by the White House.
The complaints were the latest aftershocks in a bitter partisan battle in Washington over U.S. foreign and domestic policy and followed a Republican-led uproar over remarks made by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to that meted out by the Nazis, at Soviet gulags or by Cambodia’s Pol Pot.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement saying “it is time to stop using Sept. 11 as a political wedge issue.”
“Karl Rove should immediately and fully apologize for his remarks or he should resign,” Reid said. “The lesson of Sept. 11 is not different for conservatives, liberals or moderates.”
Speaking to the Conservative Party of New York State on Wednesday night, Rove said: “Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”
Rove cited a petition the liberal organization moveon.org circulated after 9/11 urging moderation and restraint in responding to the attacks, and Durbin’s comment about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Sen. Durbin, certainly putting America’s men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals,” Rove said.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry said: “Karl Rove doesn’t owe me an apology…he doesn’t owe Democrats an apology, He owes the country an apology.”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended Rove’s remarks and rebuffed suggestions that he apologize. “Of course not,” McClellan said.
He said Rove was “talking about the different philosophies and different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.”
“I would think that they would want to be able to defend their philosophy and their approach, and I know that the Democratic leadership at this point is offering no ideas and no vision for the American people,” McClellan said.
Rove’s remarks were reminiscent of some of President Bush’s speeches from his re-election campaign last year but seemed to go further in saying liberals had offered therapy for the attackers.
Rove was the architect of Bush’s 2004 campaign and is now a deputy White House chief of staff.
Congressional Democrats criticized Rove in press releases, at news conferences and in comments on the Senate floor. Some echoed Reid’s comments that Rove should retract the comments or resign.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, said it was time for all to “just take a breath and calm down and eliminate the divisive rhetoric on all sides.”
In New York, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, citing the families and survivors of those killed in the hijacked airliner attacks, said, “No one has ever raised issues of ideology or partisanship.”
“We owe it to those we lost to keep partisan politics out of the discussion,” Bloomberg said.
Democrats’ demands for an apology from Rove came two days after Durbin yielded to a drumbeat of largely Republican criticism and apologized for criticizing U.S. interrogation methods at Guantanamo.
The cross-fire between Republicans and Democrats reflected a deep divide over the direction of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, from the Iraq war to Bush’s proposals for overhauling Social Security.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, asked about an apology, said: “We’ve seen some pretty hot rhetoric from both sides of the aisle lately. And the most important thing is the United States is united in saying that we’re going to win the war on terror and we will win the war on terror.”