War of Words Over Iraq

Posted November 5, 2003 at 6:38pm

A bitter dispute between House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) grew even more heated this week, as the Majority Leader fired off an acrid missive accusing the Seattle Democrat of exhibiting “deplorable behavior” during a visit to Iraq last year by criticizing President Bush “while being escorted around a barbaric dictatorship by the dictator’s minions.”

“You traveled to Iraq on a humanitarian mission, and while there, enjoying the warm reception of Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime, you attacked President Bush for ‘setting up to throw out Saddam Hussein,’ the very proposition you voted for [H.R. 4664, 105th Congress) under the previous [Democrat] administration,” DeLay charged in a personal letter he sent to McDermott on Tuesday. [IMGCAP(1)]

“Your words, had they been spoken in the United States, would have amounted to mean-spirited but predictable mediocre partisan hackery,” continued DeLay’s letter. “That they were uttered in Saddam’s Iraq, however, perhaps within shouting distance of a torture chamber or mass grave, elevated (or lowered) those remarks to the sickening embarrassment they were.”

A McDermott aide, however, said DeLay’s letter failed to address the central issue that sparked the dispute in the first place — a comment made by a DeLay spokesman that McDermott considered an “insult.”

“Someone identified as a member of your staff is quoted in this morning’s Roll Call referring to ‘the point [Rep. McDermott] was making when he was attacking the United States on foreign soil,’” McDermott wrote in an Oct. 21 letter to the Majority Leader that sparked the written war of words between the two Members.

At the time, McDermott was attempting to use a parliamentary tactic to discredit President Bush’s Jan. 28 State of the Union address by having asterisks placed next to the text in the Congressional Record to communicate that portions of the speech were inaccurate — a move that DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy characterized as “just part of a continuation of the points he was making when he was attacking the United States on foreign soil.”

But McDermott — who took a controversial trip with several other lawmakers to Baghdad last fall — took exception to that description of his activities.

“Criticizing a President is not tantamount to ‘attacking the United States.’” McDermott complained. “I resent and deplore that a Congressional staff member would make such an ill-considered remark.”

In his letter, McDermott pointed out that he has “indeed been critical of President George W. Bush” just as DeLay had been “frequently harshly critical of President Bill Clinton.” But being critical, McDermott stated, doesn’t mean he isn’t patriotic.

“Because I love this country, I likewise criticized President Bush’s action when I believe he is not acting in the best interests of the United States, and I will not stand for this being equated with attacking my country.”

McDermott has emerged as a favorite Republican whipping boy in recent years, after it was revealed that McDermott had leaked the contents of a recorded telephone call between GOP leaders to the press. In 1998, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) sued McDermott in federal court for a violation of privacy, and the protracted suit has yet to be resolved.

And it looks like this more recent skirmish isn’t likely to die down any time soon either.

DeLay isn’t backing down — stating that he stands by his spokesman’s “assessment of your deplorable behavior in Iraq.”

“I’ve no doubt you love your country with patriotic fervor, Congressman,” DeLay wrote, underlining the sentence for emphasis. “But your obvious dislike for President Bush — mixed with an opportunity to make national news — pushed your rhetoric over the line last September.”

There’s no word yet on whether McDermott’s planning to send the tilt into a third round, although his staff appeared less than satisfied with the Majority Leader’s “diatribe.”

“As enjoyable as it was to read Mr. DeLay’s views on U.S. foreign policy, what Mr. McDermott took issue with was a DeLay staffer being quoted as saying Mr. McDermott had criticized the United States, when, in fact, Mr. McDermott criticized President George W. Bush,” a McDermott spokesperson said Wednesday. “Evidently, for Mr. DeLay, there is no difference.”