WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats delivered one of the sharpest critiques yet of the Bush administration’s credibility and handling of the Iraq war Tuesday, as the Senate prepared to confirm Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to be secretary of state today.
Seizing on a nine-hour debate that Republicans had hoped to avoid, several Democrats excoriated the administration’s pre-war claims about Iraqi weapons and its handling of the ongoing war and transition. Both parties agreed that Rice, 50, will be confirmed, but that didn’t stop a cross-section of Democrats from questioning her truthfulness in terms that until Tuesday were used only by liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Some of the most critical Democrats were centrists from states that President Bush won or nearly won in November. Their comments came as recent polls have shown growing public disenchantment with the situation in Iraq.
Too many Republican senators allow Bush’s top aides “to get away with lying,” said Sen. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who opposed the war and faces re-election next year in the swing state of Minnesota. “Lying to Congress, lying to our committees, and lying to the American people. It’s wrong, it’s immoral.” The only way to stop it, Dayton said, is to keep the administration from promoting officials “who have been instrumental in deceiving Congress and the American people, and regrettably that includes Dr. Rice.”
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who voted to authorize the war, said Rice “has been a principal architect of policy errors that have tragically undermined our prospects for success” in Iraq.
Republicans defended the administration and Rice, saying she has the right experience, drive and philosophy to be an outstanding secretary of state. “I really don’t see any value in attacking Dr. Rice personally,” Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told his colleagues.
A few Democrats also spoke in favor of Rice, including Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and freshman Sen. Kenneth Salazar, D-Colo.
Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, will replace the retiring Colin Powell as secretary of state after the Senate confirms her in a vote that may seem anti-climactic following Tuesday’s speeches.