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At Capitol, Cheney Leads GOP Attack on Reid

Vice President Cheney launched a blistering attack on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) on Tuesday, accusing the Democratic leader of “defeatism” and of making cynical use of the supplemental war spending bill to his party’s tactical advantage in the 2008 election cycle.

With the House and Senate expected this week to pass a war supplemental conference report including provisions requiring the start of troop redeployments in Iraq, Republicans significantly have upped their attacks on the Nevada Democrat as part of their broader strategy of defending President Bush’s handling of the war.

In a rare news conference in the Capitol following the weekly Republican Conference luncheon, Cheney told reporters that Reid’s Monday speech on Iraq policy was “troubling” because of its “defeatism” and charged that Reid was using the issue to better position his party to pick up seats in the upcoming election.

“It is cynical to declare the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage,” Cheney said, noting that Reid and other Democratic leaders have predicted they would pick up seats in 2008 because of the war.

Cheney’s remarks were the apex of a broader, coordinated attack on Reid by the GOP. The Republican National Committee on Tuesday announced it would begin running radio ads in Nevada this week featuring Capt. Trip Bellard, an Iraq War veteran, questioning Reid’s declaration last week that the war is “lost.”

“When Harry Reid said last week the War in Iraq was lost he told our enemies that he thinks they have won … Our troops in harm’s way deserve better than to be treated like a political football by a Washington politician,” Bellard says, according to a transcript of the ad.

In an interview Tuesday morning on CNN, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — who mistakenly referred to Reid as Sen. Harry “Rude” — accused Reid of attempting to manage the war from Washington and of making a political ploy.

Later, Bush in a statement at the White House echoed those themes, charging that “Democratic leaders [have chosen] to further delay funding our troops, and they chose to make a political statement,” and saying that their plan would result in “failure.”

Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that Democrats “talk about this all in political terms … this is not a game. We need to get the money to the troops at the earliest possible time.”

But it was Cheney’s comments that seemed to draw the most attention — and response — from Reid and his lieutenants. When asked about them, Reid, referring to Cheney as Bush’s “attack dog,” took a shot at the vice president’s poor standing in the polls, telling reporters that “I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) accused Bush and Cheney of living in a “bunker” and argued that “instead of simply calling names and demanding a rubber stamp,” Bush and Cheney should look to find common ground with Congress on Iraq.

Democrats also said that the personal nature of the attacks on Reid are a clear sign that Republicans are feeling pressure at home and are a show of desperation.

“The vice president’s and others’ attacks on those who disagree with their failed policies are signs of desperation,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. “They are lashing out because they know the days are numbered for their failed strategy and that the American people and a bipartisan majority are determined to force this administration to change course in Iraq.”

Despite the GOP effort to damage Reid politically, Democrats continued to stand by their leader. Reid discussed the supplemental during his party’s weekly luncheon, and sources familiar with the discussion said Caucus members remained united in supporting Reid’s plan.

“Caucus went surprisingly well,” a source familiar with the luncheon said, adding that no Senators expressed concerns either with Reid’s handling of the war debate or the implications Republicans’ increasingly personal attacks on their leader may have for the political fortunes of other Members.

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