By Sam Youngman and Jared Allen - 05/05/10 12:31 AM EDT
Congressional Democrats and the White House touted their anti-terrorism credentials Monday following the arrest of a man for the attempted bombing of New York City’s Times Square.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the Obama administration has been more successful in combating terrorism than was former President George W. Bush, while a stream of administration officials hailed the speed with which authorities nabbed Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who admitted to trying to detonate the bomb.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said authorities had moved like a real-life Jack Bauer, the fictional government agent who cracks terrorism cases in a day on television’s “24.”
“We know that Jack Bauer can do it in 24 [hours],” he said. “But in the real world, 53 [hours] is a pretty good number.”
President Barack Obama also hailed Shahzad’s arrest, and took the moment to reassure the country that Shahzad was being questioned by FBI and national security officials who “have all the tools and experience they need to learn everything we can, and that includes what if any connection this individual has to any terrorist groups.”
“Justice will be done, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the American people,” Obama said.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) charged the Obama administration with only focusing on terrorism "in limited spurts."
"With each close encounter, my fear is that the country goes on heightened alert only as long as the media tend to cover it," Cantor said.
"Equally concerning is that the administration and other elected officials tend to give these warnings due attention only in limited spurts. Many of the same critics who groused about how we failed to connect the dots prior to 9-11 are today repeating the same pattern. As a result, America is at risk of slipping into the type of false sense of security which prevailed before that September morning."
Not long after Cantor's speech, Hoyer took the opportunity to tout Democrats’ anti-terror credentials.
“We’re tough on terrorists. That’s our policy. That’s our performance. And, in fact, we’ve been more successful,” Hoyer said at his weekly press availability.
He took a direct shot at the Bush administration over Afghanistan, which he said ignored it. Democrats have been more successful in targeting terrorists where they come from, Hoyer said.
“We’ve been more successful in Pakistan,” Hoyer said. “We’re focused on where terrorism began — not began but was launched against us — in Afghanistan, which the Bush administration essentially ignored and, as a result, after seven years had a festering, worsening situation inherited by this administration.”
Democrats have come under frequent attack from Republicans on national security and terrorism. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, has taken several shots at Obama, whom he has accused of endangering national security.
It was impossible to avoid the subtext of Cheney in Hoyer’s remarks, which appeared designed to counterattack Republicans looking to the attempted bombing as evidence that Democrats are not doing enough to stop terrorists.
While Holder said Shahzad was cooperative before and after he was read his Miranda rights, Republicans immediately criticized applying those legal rights to an alleged terrorist.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it would have been a “serious mistake” if Shahzad had been read his Miranda rights during his arrest, and before authorities could obtain as much information as possible.
“Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” McCain added during an appearance on “Imus in the Morning.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the comments of McCain and other Republicans “curious.”
“I think it’s important to understand these are decisions that are made in consultation with the intelligence community and highly trained counterterrorism officials” who have a vested interest in gleaning information from suspects, Gibbs said.
Gibbs said McCain’s comments are “somewhat of an affront to law enforcement on a day in which we hope we laud what they’ve done.”
Hoyer also fought back against Republican criticism of the reading of Miranda rights by noting the Bush administration did the same thing with American citizens who were arrested.
“I think it doesn’t have a great deal of credibility, carping about that. Because, of course, that’s the way Bush handled [it],” Hoyer said. “[Saying], ‘It wasn’t wrong when Bush did it but now it’s wrong’? I don’t think that sells.”
The attorney general said Shahzad would be charged with terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Holder could not confirm reports that Pakistan has arrested other individuals in connection with the plot.
“It is clear that this was a terrorist plot aimed at murdering Americans in one of the busiest places in our country,” Holder said.
Gibbs was questioned at length by reporters at the daily White House briefing about how Shahzad was able to board a flight to Dubai, which had already left the gate, after he had been placed on the no-fly list.
Gibbs said the redundancies in the system worked, and Shahzad was not allowed to fly.
The administration came under heavy fire after a suspect on the no-fly list was able to board an international flight to Detroit on which he tried to detonate an explosive on Christmas Day.
Gibbs said early Tuesday that Obama was briefed six times throughout the day on Monday by Department of Homeland Security head of counterterrorism John Brennan. Brennan notified Obama of the arrest at 12:05 a.m.