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GOP Attacks Boxer’s Pitch

Prompting Republicans charging that the pitch “cheapened” the nomination debate, Senate Democrats on Tuesday sent out a fundraising solicitation based on their opposition to Bush adviser Condoleezza Rice’s elevation to secretary of State.

In an e-mail sent out Tuesday on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) referred to Rice’s “misleading statements” regarding Iraq, vowed to continue to “make my voice heard” and implored donors to contribute to the DSCC’s efforts to win seats in 2006.

Alluding to the Senate’s other ongoing confirmation battle, that of Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales, and expected fights over potential Supreme Court nominees, Boxer wrote, “My Democratic colleagues and I will hold the Bush Administration accountable for its decisions.”

The fundraising missive is the latest flare-up in a nomination fight that has become surprisingly heated, given that both sides readily acknowledge Rice will be confirmed today by a wide margin. The e-mail pitch went out to DSCC donors as the Senate began its nine-hour debate on Rice’s nomination, which had appeared to be on a glide path to confirmation last week until Democrats demanded a floor debate and vote. Republicans had hoped to give the president a swearing-in gift by approving Rice by voice vote on Inauguration Day.

While Democrats have argued that a debate and roll call vote on the nation’s top diplomat in a time of war was little to ask, Republicans pounced on the Boxer pitch as the latest move by Democrats to politicize the nomination process.

“By writing the fundraising letter, she has cheapened her arguments on the floor,” said Bob Stevenson, communications director for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Stevenson added that the opposition from the small group of Democrats appeared to be based “not by reason but on petty, partisan politics.”

“The election is over. The American people sent a clear message that the politics of obstruction do not work; rather, they expect us to work together,” Stevenson said.

Calling the attacks on Rice the “specter of partisan politics,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) went to the floor Tuesday evening to demand an apology from Democrats, asking that those Senators not associated with the letter repudiate its content.

According to one Democratic estimate, seven Democrats were ready to vote against Rice’s confirmation today, with at least seven more openly considering it. One GOP aide, noting Rice’s overall support in the chamber, dismissed Boxer’s letter as an attempt to further ingratiate herself with the left and raise money in the process. “She’s not the future of the Democratic Party,” the aide said.

However, Rice’s nomination is drawing studied looks by some of the potential candidates for Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a prominent centrist, announced his opposition to Rice on Tuesday.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who may seek the nomination again, already opposed her nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee. And by late Tuesday evening, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had not yet announced how she intends to vote.

Privately, Democratic strategists accused Republicans and President Bush of transforming into an “art form” their ability to politicize the war on terror and Iraq, including in direct-mail pitches to GOP donors across the country. They also contend that the issue of “obstructionism” — leveled endlessly at former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who lost his seat in 2004 — was not a critical component of the GOP sweep at the polls.

The DSCC defended its e-mail solicitation by attacking Republicans for trying to dodge a serious debate on an Iraq policy many considered flawed.

“With tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq in harm’s way, nine hours of debate about what can be done to make our policy better is totally appropriate. Republicans will say anything to avoid a serious discussion of the president’s handling of the war,” said Phil Singer, spokesman for the DSCC.

The Republican National Committee countered that Boxer had become the “face of the Democratic Party.”

“As the president and the Republican-led Congress are beginning an active dialogue on important issues facing the American people, you have the face of the Democratic Party right now, who seems to be Barbara Boxer, sending this self-aggrandizing letter bragging about obstructionism all in the name of raising money,” said RNC spokesman Brian Jones.

For Boxer, the fundraising letter was the latest step in her increasingly vocal role in opposing Bush since the start of the 109th Congress. In addition to taking on Rice, Boxer joined with several House Members in officially challenging Ohio’s electoral votes at the ceremonial vote-counting in early January. Her challenge forced the House and Senate to debate the validity of a state’s electoral votes for only the third time in history — ultimately, she was the lone Senator to oppose approving the Buckeye State’s electoral ballots.

That move prompted an outpouring of goodwill from liberal groups, who flooded her office with bouquets of flowers. After her jousting with Rice at last week’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing, some liberal bloggers even began talking her up as a presidential candidate in 2008, a suggestion few if any legitimate strategists took seriously.

Boxer took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to defend her criticisms of Rice, saying she was surprised that her pointed questions have received so much attention, positive and negative.

“I believe I’m doing my job,” Boxer told her colleagues. “It’s as simple as that.”

A Republican National Committee e-mail highlighted Boxer’s liberal voting record and her connection to controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, and the group also sent out a harsh attack on newly installed Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a five-page memo entitled “Reid All About It” after he unveiled a new Democratic agenda. Returning to their strikes against Daschle, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman said the new agenda would “continue blocking the American people’s priorities.”

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