The Democrats contended the president had used a prime-time address commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to make partisan arguments bolstering support for the Iraq war.
"I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "They certainly do not want to take the terrorists on and defeat them."
Trading barbs, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who had criticized the president's speech as inappropriately political, called Boehner's criticism "cynical tactics."
"Rather than try to defend their own failed record, Republicans have resorted to the desperation politics of fear," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "It is long past time for Republicans to be honest with American people and stop questioning the patriotism of those who recognize that the president's Iraq policy has not worked, is making us less safe and must be changed."
The White House tried to steer clear of the tussle. In fact, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow took issue with Boehner's contention that Democrats may be looking out for the terrorists' interests. Snow said it was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable that "there will be some name calling" in the months before this fall's election as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of Congress.
Snow stood by the advance billing he gave that the president's speech would not be political, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.
"We took great pains not to say, 'Democrat versus Republican.' The president did have an obligation as commander in chief at a time of war to let people know his thinking," Snow said.
The White House vigorously defended Bush against Democratic charges that the president inappropriately used Monday's televised speech, marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to try to bolster support for the divisive war in Iraq.
Snow said very little of the president's 17-minute address contained controversial statements, and that "this was not an attempt to stir the hornet's nest."
Democratic leaders called the speech a political argument trying to justify the war by linking it to the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Democrats contend mismanagement of the war calls for a change in congressional leadership.
"The president spoke for his administration, not for the nation," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "This was a political move, designed to tap the overwhelming public sentiment to destroy al Qaeda as a way to bolster sagging public support for the war in Iraq."
Reid and Pelosi circulated a letter they sent to the television networks and cable news channels asking for equal coverage of Democratic viewpoints on terrorism and Iraq. "There has been a complete absence of balance in the news coverage of national security issues," they wrote.
In response, representatives for ABC and CBS said the networks cover news fairly and accurately and will continue to do so.
Bush's address paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and described the enemy as a global network of extremists who hate freedom and tolerance. "The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict," he said. "It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation."
Much of the speech described the administration's foreign policy following the attack and the decision to go after enemies before they could harm Americans.
"I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Bush said. "The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat."
Bush contended disaster could result if the United States pulled out of the war, emboldening terrorists.
The liberal MoveOn.org planned to air a cable television ad this week accusing Bush and congressional Republicans of politicizing Sept. 11 by exploiting the attacks to invade Iraq and win re-election. Two conservative groups, Progress for America and the Center for Security Policy, started running their own ads last week backing Bush's policy and telling viewers to vote "as if your life depends on it."
Republicans and Democrats in Congress showed other cracks in the unity they espoused for Monday's Sept. 11 remembrance, arguing over language in a commemorative resolution scheduled for debate Wednesday.
Democrats asked Republican leaders to delete a portion that names a series of laws, including the USA Patriot Act, that Congress passed in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
Boehner indicated the GOP leadership didn't plan to change the resolution. "I, for the life of me, I have no idea what the objection is," he told reporters. "At the end of the day, the majority has to do what the majority has to do."
The White House, meanwhile, pushed Congress to enact new anti-terrorism laws, but the administration faced stiff resistance from some senators and House leaders — including some Republicans — who said they would not give the White House a blank check.
That threw into question whether the White House could win its anti-terror measures before the midterm elections. The administration wants legislation to allow for easier prosecution of terror suspects and tracking by electronic surveillance.