Unlike 9/11, partisanship has worsened after Christmas attack

Wounded by their losses on healthcare, Republicans have gone on the offensive after the Christmas attack, amplifying partisanship by criticizing President Obama's national-security credentials.

After the 9/11 attacks, members of Congress set aside bitter, partisan disputes – at least for a season – in a show of unity and resolve on the steps of the US Capitol.

They linked arms. They sang God Bless America. Democrats pledged support to the President Bush, a Republican. Much of the post-9/11 reform agenda in this previously gridlocked Congress passed with unanimity.

But the Christmas attack on Northwest Flight 253 has produced no such bipartisan moment. Instead, it’s amplified the partisan sniping on Capitol Hill on issues ranging from national security policy to end-of-year fundraising.

After losing bids to block healthcare legislation, Republicans are seeking traction on national security. “Anything that forces the focus of attention on security issues naturally favors the Republicans,” says GOP pollster Whit Ayres.

Flight 253 and fundraising

With hours to go on closing the books on fundraising for 2009, GOP campaign committees in both the House and Senate are using Flight 253 as a reason for supporters to refill party coffers by Thursday midnight.

President Obama’s post-inaugural reference to "man-made disasters,” instead of terrorist acts, "showed a remarkable lack of understanding of the threat America faced, but in the face of what nearly happened a couple days [ago], it is even more infuriating,” wrote National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer in a fundraising appeal on Wednesday.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, riled Democrats by a reference to “the Obama/Pelosi efforts to weaken our security” in a fundraising letter in his campaign for governor.

“It’s sickening to see the Republican leadership has decided to exploit the attempted terrorist attack on Americans for crass political purposes,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“The Obama administration has been far more aggressive against Al Qaeda in the years since it has taken office than the Bush administration was since they took their eye off Al Qaeda and focused attention and resources on Iraq,” he added.

In Michigan, GOP primary rival Rick Snyder today called on Hoekstra to return any funds raised from that appeal. “Congressman Hoekstra crossed the line by using terrorism as a fundraising tool,” he wrote.

Hearings ahead

Three congressional panels have already announced hearings on US when Congress returns next month. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for a closer look at protocols and procedures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Flight 253 allegedly with high explosives.

“We should see what existing procedures have broken down,” says Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) of Michigan in an interview. “We shouldn’t add to the crisis atmosphere.”


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