Flight 253 attack puts terrorism debate back in front of political playbook

Republicans are pressing their line of attack on the issue of national security in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

One day after Democrats excoriated Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, for using the near takedown of a passenger jet in a fundraising appeal for his campaign for governor, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) took a page from from Hoesktra’s playbook.

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In an email to supporters Wednesday, NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer cited the attempted terrorism, along with healthcare legislation, as reasons contributors should pony up to Republicans.

"[T]his country was one faulty detonator away from an American airliner being blown out of the sky," Jesmer wrote in the solicitation. "Remember right after the inauguration, it was revealed President Obama no longer wanted to acknowledge the 'global war on terror' and referred to terrorist acts as 'man-made disasters'? Back then you and I knew that showed a remarkable lack of understanding of the threat America faced but in the face of what nearly happened a couple days, it is even more infuriating.

"To you and me and our friends throughout America, the healthcare bill is a man-made disaster,” the letter adds. “And when a foreigner tries to blow up an airliner, it is an attempted terrorist attack.”

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was more subtle in his fundraising pitch for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, also sent Wednesday. The e-mail focused on Democrats’ “wasteful” spending on bailouts and earmarks, as well as what Boehner dubbed the “Obama-Pelosi-Reid government takeover” of healthcare. But it also includes a line about preventing the Obama administration from importing “dangerous terrorists into American communities.”

Democrats have called the Republicans “giddy” over the attempted plot and have blasted them for playing “crass political” politics with national security, arguing that the American people will hold them accountable for the gross display.

“It’s just shameful and pathetic that Congressional Republicans continue to put their beloved GOP ahead of the country no matter the issue, even in the immediate aftermath of a terror plot to blow up a plane and kill innocent Americans on Christmas,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer.

If Republicans are afraid of being slammed for playing politics with the attempted Christmas Day bombing, they’re not showing it. In fact, they seem to be spoiling for a national security fight.

Republicans say they can afford to keep up the scare tactics about the Democrats’ record on national security because they believe their party has a better national security record, especially when the American people are focused around a recent event that rekindles widespread anxiety over the possibility of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The Christmas Day attempted plot did just that, and like it or not, it occurred on President Barack Obama’s watch after years of the federal authorities preventing other terrorist plots to wreak havoc on U.S. soil.

Democrats like to point to the "shoe bomber" and remind the press that it took six days for President George W. Bush to address Richard Reid’s botched attack on a transatlantic airliner just a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The failed bombing on Dec. 22, 2001, revealed gaping holes in the nation’s airline security and there were no complaints from the press or any opposition from Democrats at the time about Bush relying on surrogates to speak on the matter for eight days while he was on vacation.


Back then, however, Americans were still reeling from Sept. 11 so the unsuccessful attempt by Reid, who packed plastic explosives in his shoes, looked mild in comparison. Since that time, a lot of ink has been spilled and taxpayer dollars spent in the creation of vast new agencies and cabinet-level positions designed to force intelligence information sharing to thwart terrorist plans before they are executed. In the intervening years, Americans have been pleasantly surprised that no additional attacks have occurred even as they have griped about the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have continued without end.

Yet the jarring, unsuccessful attack on Christmas Day may have shaken some voters out of their complacency and trust that federal agencies had been given the tools to prevent such flagrant attacks on U.S. soil.

Now that people know that an attack is possible and lapses in the security system exist, they may not be so willing to sit back and trust the powers that be to keep them safe. Making matters worse for Democrats, the close call comes at a time when public opinion on national security matters seems to be starting to turn against the Obama administration.

A late August Rasmussen poll found that 75 percent of U.S. voters are at least somewhat concerned that dangerous terrorists will be set free if the Guantanamo prison camp is closed, with 56 percent saying they are very concerned. Obama has continued with plans to close the prison even though his deadline of Jan. 22 has slipped while he considers U.S. prisons to house them, including the Thomsen Correctional Facility in Illinois.

In a mid-November Rasmussen poll, 51 percent of those polled oppose Obama’s plans to try professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in New York court. Just this week, a new Rasmussen poll revealed that a majority of American voters (58 percent) favor the use of waterboarding or other “aggressive techniques” to extract information from suspected Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The national GOP party committees are watching the polls closely and trying to tap into any angst over Obama’s new national security policies.

“Whether it was the economy or national security, the Democrats' mantra for years has been ‘elect us and we will do better’. From the closing of Gitmo, to treating the 9/11 mastermind as a common criminal, or most recently Secretary Napolitano claiming 'the system worked' after the attempted terrorist bombing over Detroit, the majority of Americans are perplexed as to what are the core tenets of their homeland security policy,” the NRSC’s Jesmer told The Hill. “To most, it would seem that policy largely consists of flying around the world apologizing for America's 'sins' while hoping hardened terrorists and thug nuclear regimes will suddenly look fondly upon
America and her allies.”

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Democrats are pledging to fight fire with fire and make Republican votes against key national security and defense funding measures a point of attack in the wake of the near-attack on the Detroit-bound passenger jet.

They’ve taken Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to task for holding up the nomination of the senior post at the Transportation Security Administration, and in recent days, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has said House Democrats will ensure that the American people are aware that Republicans opposed a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that included funding for airport security, including $778.3 million for explosives detection systems and $122.8 million to improve air cargo screening.

In the June 24 vote in the House, Republicans including Hoekstra, Boehner, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Paul Ryan (R-Ind.) voted against the bill amid a procedural dispute over the way the Democrats were handling the entire appropriations process. A majority of Republicans – 108 – voted against the conference version.

Democrats may have a hard time translating House GOP votes on spending bills into points at the polls. As with any scare tactics, often the most colorful images and sound bites pack the most punch as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) discovered late in his 2004 campaign for the presidency. In the last 10 days of the race, the Bush campaign played the fear card in dramatically graphic style in an advertisement showing wolves gathering in a dark forest, ready to take advantage of Kerry’s alleged weakness on national security.

The “wolves” ad was criticized for its visceral approach but many political observers credited it with driving home Republicans’ “soft on terror” theme.