"That is wrong," Daschle said in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor. "We ought not politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death."
Breaking the recent veneer of bipartisanship over Iraq, Daschle demanded an apology from Mr. Bush to the American people and Senate Democrats like Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who were wounded fighting for their country.
"You tell those who fought in Vietnam and World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people" because they are Democrats, Daschle said. "That is outrageous. Outrageous."
Daschle cited a string of actions by the administration including a comment by Mr. Bush that the Democratic-controlled Senate is "not interested in the security of the American people."
Republicans responded that Daschle's remarks Wednesday were divisive.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said he was "deeply saddened by the tone and tenor" of Daschle's remarks. "Who is the enemy here?" asked Lott. "The president of the United States or Saddam Hussein?"
Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said that "Sen. Daschle needs to cool the rhetoric. We've got a lot of work to do."
But Democrats literally lined up behind Daschle, including Hawaii's Inohue, who lost an arm fighting the Nazis and spoke more in sorrow than anger.
"There are those who plan war and those who engage in war," he said.
"It grieves me when my president makes statements that would divide this nation."
Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, all but went into orbit, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.
"It is outrageous, it is insulting. It is wrong, wrong, wrong," said Byrd, who has been an outspoken opponent of the president's Iraq policy.
The White House brushed aside Daschle's call for an apology, saying the Democratic leader based his accusations on newspaper accounts that took Mr. Bush's comments out of context.
"Now is a time for everybody concerned to take a deep breath, to stop finger-pointing, and to work well together to protect our national security and our homeland defense," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Wednesday's war of words came as congressional leaders negotiated in private with the administration over the terms of a resolution that would authorize the president to use force to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Despite misgivings by some rank-and-file Democrats, Daschle and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt have both signaled support for such legislation, to be passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.
At the same time, Democratic political strategists have expressed concern that the national debate over Iraq is overshadowing domestic issues in the campaign.
Lott said he thought he, Daschle, Gephardt and House Speaker Dennis Hastert would come to an agreement on the resolution by the end of this week. "I think it's word-tweaking, I don't think there's broad disagreement on terms."
The quote Daschle referred to came during a visit that Mr. Bush made earlier this week to Trenton, N.J.
Speaking at a public event that preceded his appearance at a fund-raiser for Republican Senate candidate Doug Forrester, the president said, "The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this president and future presidents to better keep the American people secure."
Excerpt from Daschle's Speech
Following is an excerpt from Wednesday's speech on the Senate floor in which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle demanded an apology from President Bush:
No one here needs to be reminded of the consequences of war. No one here should have to be admonished about politicizing the debate about war. But Mr. President, increasingly, over the course of the last several weeks, reports have surfaced which have led me to believe that indeed there are those who would politicize this war.
... I listen to reports of the vice president, the vice president comes to fund-raisers, as he did just recently in Kansas. The headline written in the paper the next day about the speech he gave to that fund-raiser was, "Cheney Talks About War: Electing Taft Would Aid War effort."
And then we find a diskette discovered in Lafayette Park, a computer diskette that was lost somewhere between a Republican strategy meeting in the White House and the White House. — Advice was given by Karl Rove, and the quote in the disk was "focus on war."
I guess right from the beginning, I felt, well, first it was pollsters, then it was White House staff, and then it was the vice president, and all along I was asked, are you concerned about whether or not this war is politicized, and my answer on every occasion was yes. And then the follow-up question is, is the White House politicizing the war? And I said without question, I can't bring myself to believe that it is. I can't believe any president or any administration would politicize the war.
But then I read in the paper this morning. Now, even the president. The president is quoted in The Washington Post this morning as saying that Democratic -- the Democratic-controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people. Not interested in the security of the American people? You tell Senator Inouye he is not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War Two they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous, outrageous.
The president ought to apologize to Senator Inouye and every veteran who fought in every war who is a Democrat in the United States Senate. He ought to apologize to the American people. That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about war in life and death.
I was in Normandy just last year. I've been in national cemeteries all over this country, and I have never seen anything but stars, the Star of David, and crosses on those markers. I have never seen Republican and Democrat.
This has got to end, Mr. President. We've got get on with the business of our country. We've got to rise to a higher level. Our founding fathers would be embarrassed by what they are seeing going on right now. We've got to do better than this. Our standard of deportment ought to be better. Those who died gave their lives for better than what we are giving now.
So, Mr. President, it's not too late it end this politicization. It's not too late to forget the pollsters, forget the campaign fund-raisers, forget making accusations about how interested in national security Democrats are, and let's get this job done right, let's rise to the occasion. That's what American people are expecting. And we ought to give them no less.
I yield the floor.