By Michael O’Brien - 05/02/11 11:23 PM EDT
Both conservatives and liberals praised President Obama’s operation to kill Osama bin Laden, but they also used the occasion to try to score political points for their respective parties.
Many Republicans commended the president and passed on any opportunity to take a shot at Obama and his policies. But they also said former President George W. Bush deserved credit for the death of the terrorist leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“We need to open the program today by congratulating President Obama,” he said on his radio show Monday. “President Obama has done something extremely effective, and when he does, this needs to be pointed out.”
Even some of the president’s most dogged conservative critics, like former Vice President Dick Cheney or Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, acknowledged the president deserved commendation.
But they were also sure to mention Bush in the same breath.
“Let me just say, as a Republican, let me give the president, President Obama, tremendous credit for this,” King said on NBC’s “Today” show. “This whole situation began under President Bush — it was continued and now carried to a conclusion, very successful conclusion, by President Obama, and he deserves full credit.”
Democrats, by contrast, limited their remarks to praise for Obama and made little mention of Bush.
“I salute President Obama, his national security team, [CIA] Director [Leon] Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in her statement.
There was one notable exception.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) took a shot at Bush on Sunday evening.
“This is the ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment President Bush only fantasized about,” Ackerman said in an interview with CNN, referencing a 2003 speech by Bush in which he announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq in front of a banner that read, “Mission Accomplished.”
Despite the salutes to the president and members of the military and intelligence communities, there were the inevitable efforts by partisans on the left and right to build political capital as a result of bin Laden’s slaying.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who will lead Democrats’ 2012 election efforts when she takes over as the head of the Democratic National Committee, said specifically that Obama’s policies led to bin Laden’s death.
“He deserves credit for refocusing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to root out terrorism, which no doubt helped lead to this historic announcement,” she said in her statement.
The unspoken assumption in how political credit will be doled out is that Obama, if not others, stands to benefit — at least in the short term.
“I would anticipate, based on history, that Obama’s job approval rating will increase further in the wake of Sunday night’s announcement,” the Gallup Poll’s editor in chief, Frank Newport, wrote Monday.
But Obama didn’t escape all scrutiny; Limbaugh, later in his show, sarcastically mocked the parts of the president’s Sunday night speech in which Obama stressed his role in directing the operation against bin Laden. (Obama mentioned Bush once in his speech, in reference to his Republican predecessor’s insistence that the U.S. was not at war with Islam.)
Another top conservative, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), seized on the bin Laden news to scrutinize Obama’s position on enhanced interrogation tactics.
“Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?” King asked via Twitter.
But the Republicans best suited to take the president down a notch or two, those considering a 2012 presidential bid, generally passed on the opportunity to do just that.
The only dividing line in those candidates’ statements, which expressed universal adulation for bin Laden’s death, was whether they mentioned Obama by name, or at least referenced him specifically for praise.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and even real estate mogul Donald Trump called for a time-out from politics.
“We should spend the next several days not debating party politics, but in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those currently fighting for our freedom,” Trump said in his statement.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), meanwhile, elected to focus their praise on members of the military and intelligence communities; they either didn’t specifically congratulate Obama in their statements, or skipped referencing him altogether.
Jordan Fabian contributed.