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Senate Democrats Sounding More Aggressive on Terrorism

Senate Democrats struck a bullish tone on terrorism Tuesday, working to stay in front of the issue in the wake of the attempted terrorist attack in New York City last week.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, upped the pressure on the Transportation Security Administration to oversee an international no-fly list to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding American planes and said fliers will have to deal with additional security measures.

“There’s a certain amount of this, literally, that we’re going to have to put up with to protect this nation,” the California Democrat said after a closed-door briefing on the Times Square bombing attempt. “The no-fly list itself is really one of our best lines of defense in that regard.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a former Intelligence chairman, also said Tuesday that the no-fly list “is the big problem right now.”

Earlier in the day, Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) called for the Pakistani Taliban to be deemed an official terrorist organization by the State Department. Such a designation would allow the U.S. to freeze assets, stop Pakistani nationals from entering the country and criminalize the act of assisting the group.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the issue, Schumer and a handful of Democrats declared such a move “crucial.”

“Designating the Pakistani Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization would be an effective means of curtailing support for their terrorist activities and pressuring other groups to withdraw their logistical, financial and political support for this terrorist organization,” the letter read.

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Schumer all signed the letter.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said Democrats are not responding to GOP criticism that they are soft on homeland security and defense issues, but the Michigan Democrat noted the conversation has taken a stronger tone.

“It’s not a matter of a winning issue. Everyone’s put their shoulder to the wind on the war on terror,” Levin said.

“The question is how you win it. There’s a difference on technique, whether you use terror for instance,” he added. “That’s not just a moral issue but how effective you are. We’re going to continue to do everything we can that’s helpful to winning that war.”

Freshman Sen. Mark Begich said the more aggressive tone among Democrats partially came at the prodding of first-term Members.

“I think what you are sensing is more a sizable amount of Democrats this cycle that are strong on this issue,” the Alaska Democrat said. “That’s where we come from. We’re stronger on this and much more direct.”

Republicans have pointed criticism at the Obama administration in the wake of the attempted attacks in New York and Detroit, arguing President Barack Obama has overlooked key intelligence information and responded too slowly. Schumer dismissed those charges during Tuesday’s press conference but also voiced his frustration that the State Department wasn’t moving more quickly to take action against the Pakistani Taliban.

“We want to weigh in and make our voices heard. That is not commenting negatively on the administration’s fight on terrorism,” Schumer said.

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