Parties spar over blame for failed Christmas Day terrorist attack

Political fighting over the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest flight intensified Tuesday with both parties offering new lines of attack.

Republicans are labeling Democrats and President Barack Obama as weak on national security, a reliable GOP line attack that faded in the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

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Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the administration was making a mistake by not sending accused terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to a military tribunal, while at least one Republican has called for the resignation of Obama’s head of homeland security. Other conservatives criticized Obama for not using the word “terrorist” in his initial remarks about the failed attack.

But Democrats fired back on different fronts Tuesday. They suggested Republicans were endangering Americans by blocking the appointment of a new head of the Transportation Security Administration.

Democrats also charged the senior Republican of the House intelligence panel with playing politics on terror, noting that Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) invoked the attack to raise campaign money. Hoekstra is running for governor of Michigan, a state where Democrats now hold the mansion.

Obama spoke out on the issue for a second day in a row, stating that a "systemic failure" in intelligence and security practices led to a failed bombing attempt. He promisd that his administration would "diagnose the problems quickly" as he sought to gain control of a debate that could be politically damaging to his White House.

The fiery political fights following the failed Detroit attack has been in contrast to the immediate days that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks, when more than 3,000 people were killed. Lawmakers in both parties rallied around the White House in the days after the attacks and handed the Bush administration new powers to pursue terrorists.

But with no Americans killed in the bungled attack in Detroit, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have taken the gloves off this week.

GOP arguments have centered on how a 23-year-old Nigerian, whose father had warned the U.S. embassy of his radicalization, could have boarded a U.S.-bound plane. But they have been expanded to other Obama policies, from the handling of detainees to his overall position on the war on terror.

Trying Abdulmutallab in civilian court could deprive U.S. investigators of valuable information, King said Tuesday during an appearance on NBC.

“I think that the administration has made a mistake by treating this terrorist as a common criminal — by putting him into the criminal justice system,” said King, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

“I wish they would have put him into a military tribunal so we could get as much intelligence and information out of him as we could.”

Separately, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) called on embattled Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to resign. He said Napolitano had undermined the confidence of Americans by initially saying the system had worked after the failed attack. Napolitano had shifted her stance on Monday by saying that the system had not worked.

Democrats turned their heat on Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has placed a hold on Obama’s nominee to head TSA, and Hoekstra.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that two Senate committees have approved the nomination of Eroll Southers to head the TSA.

“Despite his qualifications and being reported out by two Senate committees earlier this year, Republicans have decided to play politics with this nomination by blocking final confirmation,” Reid said in a statement Tuesday. “Not only is this a failed strategy, but a dangerous one as well with serious potential consequences for our country.”

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee called Hoekstra’s use of the attack in a fundraising appeal “shameful.”


“It was shameful that Republicans like Mr. Hoekstra would attempt to play politics with our national security at all, but raising money off it is beyond the pale,” Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Hari Sevugan said in a statement.

Hoekstra’s appeal noted he had been a leader on national security for almost a decade and understood the “real and continuing threat” that radical jihadists pose to Michigan and the U.S.

“If you agree that we need a governor who will stand up the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security please make a most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 to my campaign,” he wrote to supporters.

The attack by the DNC follows comments from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs earlier this week that the attempted attack in Detroit should not be used for partisan purposes.

An aide said Reid would try to limit debate and force an up-or-down vote on Southers. Seeking a cloture vote to win the confirmation of a TSA head is unusual, in that it could require significant floor time in the Senate for a relatively low position. 

Reid spokesman Jim Manley labeled DeMint’s hold on Southers as “outrageous.”

DeMint has held up the Southers nomination because of concerns about the unionization of TSA workers, but he also linked his effort to last week’s attack. In a statement, he said it was a “perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline security decisions to be dictated by union bosses.”

DeMint said that if TSA workers were unionized under Southers, “union bosses” would have the power to delay further security improvements to airports.

“I hope this incident will lead the president to re-think this policy and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor,” DeMint said.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (Miss.) also attacked DeMint, saying Tuesday that TSA needs an administrator to run at full capacity and suggested security could be weaker because of the lack of leadership.

"If TSA is to become the kind of nimble, responsive organization the American people deserve in times like this, it will need a Senate-confirmed administrator," he said. "If nothing else, the events of last week highlighted this lack of leadership."

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Souther's nomination deserves a prompt vote.

“The acting TSA Administrator is very able and we have a solid team of professionals at TSA but Senator DeMint and others should put their short term political interests aside and allow the Senate vote on the confirmation of the president's nominee to head the agency,” Shapiro said.