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Thursday, March 20

Daschle sets aside criticism to support Bush, troops

By Larry Bivins | GNS

WASHINGTON - Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who has been under attack for criticizing White House diplomacy on Iraq, stood shoulder to shoulder with his Republican counterpart Thursday in backing a resolution supporting President Bush and U.S. troops now that war has begun.

In doing so, Daschle noted that lawmakers historically have set aside disagreements in times of armed conflict to rally behind the chief executive.

"With pride and resolve, we do so again today," the South Dakota senator said. "We may have had differences of opinion about what brought us to this point, but the president of the United States is the commander in chief, and today we unite behind him as well."

The differences of opinion Daschle spoke of were reflected in a statement he made Monday before Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to flee or face a U.S.-led invasion to rid the country of suspected weapons of mass destruction. That deadline ended about 90 minutes before bombs struck Baghdad in a precision strike.

On Monday, Daschle said he was ''saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for the country.''

Republican leaders fired back, saying his comments were divisive at a time when unity was in order.

Daschle, who voted last fall to give Bush authority to use force in Iraq, stood firm behind his statement amid steady criticism. But on Thursday, he focused his attention on the men and women about to engage in combat and their families left behind.

And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said it was time to dispense with partisan bickering over Iraq and unite behind the war effort.

''It's time to move on,'' Frist said. ''It's time for the United States Senate to pull together.''

Several Democrats agreed, including Rep. Ken Lucas of Kentucky.

''The time for debate has passed and politics must end at the water's edge,'' he said. ''Support for the members of our armed forces must not be clouded by partisan politics.''

On the Senate floor, colleagues applauded the esprit de corps shown by Daschle and Frist as they presented the resolution backing the president.

''I'm very proud that differences have been resolved and this resolution bears the signatures of both your distinguished names,'' said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In his statement supporting the resolution, Daschle called Saddam a ''menace to his own people and a threat to the peace and stability of the entire region. As our soldiers risk their own lives to secure life and liberty of others, we pledge to repay their courage by guaranteeing that we will spare no resource and no effort to make sure nothing stands between them and victory.''

Daschle recalled visiting members of the 109th Engineering Battalion in Sturgis who were on their way to the Persian Gulf two weeks ago, and he noted that 1,000 members of the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base also are in the region.

''Several thousand more South Dakotans have been activated in what is now the most robust call-up in our state's history,'' he said. ''It makes sense that so many South Dakotans have volunteered to serve. We are a state of small towns and old neighbors. And when you grow up in a small town, you learn early that your future is bound to those around you.''

(Contributing: Carl Weiser, GNS)