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Democrats Say GOP Playing Politics on Bombing Attempt

(CBS)
The Republican response to the Obama administration's handling of the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas has generated plenty of anger – though it hasn't all gone in one direction.

For supporters of the GOP's position, the criticism of the administration by Republican lawmakers – chief among them Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), former Bush administration officials Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) – reflects a justified disgust with Democrats' handling of national security.

King (pictured), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, became a seemingly ubiquitous presence on television in the days after the attack, complaining, as he did Monday, that he is "disappointed it's taken the president 72 hours to even address this issue." Hoekstra made the same argument, suggesting Mr. Obama "needs to explain" the decision "to stay silent for 72 hours," as did Rove.

"They just don't get it," Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, wrote in a fundraising letter to supporters. "These are the same weak-kneed liberals who have recently tried to bring Guantanamo Bay terrorists right here to Michigan!"

Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack

King also criticized Obama administration claims that "the system worked" and said on "Face The Nation" that the administration "should be out there reminding the American people, saying this shows how deadly this enemy is."

DeMint told CBS News Wednesday morning that "the president has downplayed terrorism since he took office." Cheney told Politico that America is "at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe."

The goal of the Republican criticism, the Washington Post suggests, could be "to create doubt, even fear, among the American public that Obama cannot protect them."

It's not the first time this line of attack on the Obama administration has arisen: In the wake of the Fort Hood massacre, Republicans lashed out at "political correctness" – a phrase critics have long associated with a liberal worldview – and complained the president did not immediately label the attack terrorism.

Yet it is unclear how effective the latest volley could be for the GOP. For critics of the Republican attacks, King and his allies aren't expressing legitimate concerns about national security. They're instead using a potential tragedy as an opportunity to score political points.

The Democratic National Committee is pushing that argument, suggesting that Republicans are hypocritically using "this incident as an opportunity to fan partisan flames." As Politico points out, following the similar attempt to bring down an airliner by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid eight years ago, there was virtually no criticism of then-President Bush, who didn't address the attempted terror attack for six days, on the part of either party.

"The bellowing by Republicans over the Obama administration's supposedly lackadaisical response to the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit seems as much about political posturing as legitimate national security concerns," wrote the Huffington Post's Sam Stein in detailing Bush's six-day silence. "How else to explain the GOP's relatively quiet reaction eight years ago to President George W. Bush's detached response after a similarly-botched terrorist attack?"

The DNC also criticized Hoekstra for evoking the attack in a fundraising letter, calling the move "beyond the pale."

Still, Republicans aren't likely to stop hammering Democrats on national security, a strategy that has been successful of them in the past. And the Obama administration's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility and decision to hold a trial for alleged Sept. 11 attackers in civilian courts in the United States will likely keep the issue in the headlines right through to the 2010 midterm elections.

More coverage from CBSNews.com:

Yemen, North Africa: Terrorism's New Home
U.S. Intel Lapses Helped Abdulmutallab
Obama: "Systemic Failure" Allowed Attack
DeMint: Obama "Has Downplayed Terrorism"
Napolitano: We Will Fix The System
Roommate: Abdulmutallab Shunned Women
Abdulmutallab's Missing Months in Yemen
Bomber's Yemen Link Mires Gitmo Closure
Somalia: Plane Attack Attempted in Nov.
Abdulmutallab Had Passport, Dutch Say
TSA Still Vexed by Explosives Screening
Behind the Abdulmutallab Security Breach
Tracing Bomb Suspect's Journey to Detroit

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