Two Little Letters Cause A Big Controversy

White House Correspondent Mark Knoller addresses the "ic" controversy.
Is it really an insult to refer to those now in charge of Congress as the "Democrat majority?"

Apparently so. Some Democrats took umbrage when Pres. Bush began his State of the Union Address last week by trying to be gracious.

"Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate – and I congratulate the Democrat majority," he said to a smattering of applause.

But to some Democrats, dems fightin' words. They say Mr. Bush should have spoken of the "Democratic" majority.

By using the word "Democrat," they say it's an effort to slight their party by not referring to its proper name. They say it's a slight that can be traced back to demagogic attacks half-a-century ago by then-Sen. Joe McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican.

So I raised the issue this morning at the early briefing known as "the gaggle" by White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"When we asked the President about it he said "what - aw no – I didn't mean anything by it."

Snow went on to say it looks to him like "an exercise in looking for offense, rather than a way to work together."

He asserts "there was no intentional slight of anyone" and the President's speech was designed to say "let's stop committing petty politics...let's stop looking for silly fights."

Mr. Bush isn't the only one getting complaints on this issue.

I got an e-mail the other day from Robert Weiner, a Democratic party activist and a one-time official in the Clinton Administration.

He said he heard a radio report of mine in which I referred to the Democrat Party.

He told me "it's a big thing to Democratic folks" not to be referred to in that way.

He wrote that "Republicans like to make it 'Democrat' Party so it sounds harsher – but it's no more accurate than "Republic" Party.

C'mon, Bob. That's a stretch. But to hear Weiner tell it, it's okay to report that Congress is controlled by Democrats, but its a swipe to call it a Democrat Congress.

I assured Weiner that I, too, intended no slight.

And there's no question it's better to be the Democrat majority rather than the Democratic minority.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.