White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan yesterday defended comments made Wednesday by Karl Rove, in which Rove suggested that Democrats’ reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was to “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”
Rove, President Bush’s chief political adviser, said in a speech Wednesday to the New York (state) Conservative Party that “liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.” Conservatives, he said, “saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.”
McClellan, when asked whether President Bush would seek an apology, said: “Of course not.”
But Democrats are seeking a response from the President nonetheless.
“Karl Rove should immediately and fully apologize for his remarks or he should resign,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-NV., said in a statement. “I hope the president will join me in repudiating these remarks.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called on Mr. Bush to “show some leadership and unequivocally repudiate Rove’s divisive and damaging political rhetoric.”
Conservative leaders will no doubt follow Bush’s lead, thus following a recent history of hysteria when a Democrat says something questionable, and hypocrisy when a Republican says something similar.
Conservatives were quick to jump on Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) after a June 14 speech on the Senate floor, in which he quoted from an FBI agent’s report on the deplorable conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, then said: “‘If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings.” Durbin later apologized.
By comparison, conservatives did not roar after Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), speaking on the Senate floor May 19 said that Democratic complaints about the “nuclear option” to ban judicial filibusters are “the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying: I’m in Paris, how dare you invade me, how dare you bomb my city. It’s mine.”
Santorum never apologized. Nor did Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who when discussing his opposition to stem cell research last October said: “We certainly have all seen the rejections of Nazi Germany’s abuses of science. As a society and a nation, there ought to be some limit on what we can allow or should allow.”
And there was no uproar before, and no apology thereafter, when conservative leader Grover Norquist said in an interview earlier last year with the Jewish newspaper The Forward: “The Nazis were for gun control, the Nazis were for high marginal tax rates. Do you want to talk about who’s closer politically to national socialism, the Right or the Left?”
For their part, the White House press corps showed rare guts yesterday during McClellan’s press conference, pressing him on the Rove comments. McClellan showed no similar guts. He was given a key line to deliver — I’ve noted how many times he calls Rove’s comments a review of “different philosophies” — and like a good soldier in the Bush propaganda machine, didn’t waver.
Here’s part of the transcript:
Q Last night Karl Rove, in a speech, accused the Democrats of trying to send the terrorists into therapy and not responding appropriately to 9/11, whereas the Republicans, he felt, responded appropriately. He’s been called on to make an apology. Will Karl Rove will apologize, and is this elevating the discourse, the way you said the President will do?
McCLELLAN: Talking about different philosophies and different approaches? That’s what Karl Rove was talking about. He was talking about the different philosophies and our different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism. And I don’t know who is even making such a suggestion.
Q Harry Reid.
Q Nancy Pelosi.
McCLELLAN: Well, I would think that they would want to be able to defend their philosophy and their approach. I mean, I know that the Democratic leadership at this point is offering no ideas and no vision for the American people, but Karl was simply pointing out the different philosophies and different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.
Q He said the Democrats wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. That’s not injecting politics into the tragedy of September 11th?
McCLELLAN: I think it’s talking about the different philosophies for winning the war on terrorism. The President recognizes that the way to win the war on terrorism is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive, and to work to spread freedom and democracy to defend the ideology of hatred that they espouse, and the ideology of tyranny and oppression.
Q So will the President ask Karl Rove to apologize?
McCLELLAN: Of course not, Jessica. This is simply talking about different philosophies and different approaches. And I think you have to look at it in that context. If people want to try to engage in personal attacks instead of defending their philosophy, that’s their business. But it’s important to point out the different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism. And that’s all he was doing.
Q So you’re suggesting that Rove’s approach to discussing the philosophy that Democrats — is to say that they want to prepare indictments and seek counseling. That’s their philosophy, is that what you were saying?
McCLELLAN: I think the comments were saying — the conservative approach and the liberal approach is what he was talking about.
Q He was saying that that’s the comparison in their philosophies?
McCLELLAN: He was speaking to a political organization. There are many who have looked at the war on terrorism and said it is a law enforcement matter, that we should prosecute people. The President recognizes that it is a war and that we must stay on the offensive, we must take the fight to the enemy. The best way to defeat the enemy is to fight them abroad and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks here at home.
Q And the therapy? What about the therapy?
McCLELLAN: I think that’s what he’s — and I think that’s what he’s talking about …
Q Scott, going back to Jessica’s question. So are you saying that it’s completely appropriate the way Karl Rove invoked 9/11? And what would you say to those who say that the comments were simply partisan and hurtful?
McCLELLAN: I think that Karl was simply pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism. That’s what he was doing. The President of the United States — you bring up something that’s very important — has worked to elevate the discourse in this town and reach out to get things done, and that’s what he’s done. Now, Karl was simply pointing out the differences that exist in how we approach the war on terrorism and how different people view it in a different way.
Q Continuing on with this then, Scott, are you suggesting that it was not Karl’s intention to belittle that philosophy, merely to illustrate it?
McCLELLAN: Look, you have his remarks, you can go back and look at his remarks for yourself.
Q Scott, you ask us oftentimes for specifics — does Karl have in mind a particular Democratic leader who suggested therapy for the folks who attacked on 9/11?
McCLELLAN: I think you can look at his remarks, Mark.
Q He didn’t mention any names, and I’m asking you if you know.
McCLELLAN: I know, so you should go look at your remarks.
Q So in other words, there are no —
McCLELLAN: Clearly, there are people who have taken a different approach, and I don’t think we need to get into names.
Q But someone who specifically has suggested therapy?
McCLELLAN: Mark, if you want to make more than it was, then you’re welcome to, but I think you should go back and look at his remarks. I didn’t see his remarks.
Q He didn’t name any names, which is why I’m asking you.
McCLELLAN: Yes, and you can go back and look at his remarks and see for yourself what it says …
Q Was Karl Rove speaking last night as a Deputy White House Chief of Staff?
McCLELLAN: He is the Deputy White House Chief and Senior White House Advisor, and I would encourage you to go look at his remarks and what he said.
Q Especially given the venue, being in New York, where there is, obviously, a very strong personal connection for many people to what happened on 9/11 and the immediate bipartisan support the President enjoyed right after those events, does the President think the tone of what Mr. Rove was saying is fair and appropriate?
McCLELLAN: I think you bring up a very good point. It was in New York, it was to the New York Conservative Party. So he was talking about the different philosophy between conservatives and liberals and different philosophy for approaching the war on terrorism. That is a very important priority for all Americans and it’s very important that the American people know what we are doing to win that war on terrorism. And that’s why he was talking about it and telling it like it is when it comes to the different approaches for winning the war on terrorism.
Q You think that was perfectly appropriate?
McCLELLAN: Again, I just said that he was talking about the different philosophies. The President has talked about the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism. And he was speaking to a specific audience about those philosophies and talking about the philosophy that we stand for and the approach that we stand for …
Q But others don’t think the characterization of how liberals approach …
McCLELLAN: Who are the others?
Q Well, you’ve got Nancy Pelosi today, Harry Reid were talking about the fact that the use of the words was not appropriate for the way, especially in the New York area …
McCLELLAN: Do you disagree that he was simply talking about the different philosophies and different approaches?
Q What I’m talking about is word choice.
McCLELLAN: Well, I think that they are just trying to engage in partisan attacks. Karl was simply talking about different philosophies, and we should be talking about what we stand for and how we want to move forward. We should be talking about what the different visions are and what the different ideas are, and that’s what he was doing.
Q Can I ask it in this way, Scott? Then if this is an issue, is this an expression in some manner that the White House is concerned that with the popularity of the war diminishing, the anti-war liberalism is beginning to take hold so the President and Karl are confronting it directly?
McCLELLAN: No, he was speaking to the New York Conservative Party, and he was talking about different philosophies — the conservative philosophy and the liberal philosophy and how we’re approaching different priorities for the American people. That’s all it is.
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