Senate Democratic leaders on Friday accused Vice President Dick Cheney of playing politics with terrorism and contended that voters won't buy Republican arguments that the GOP is stronger on national security.
"They've run this play one too many times," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a conference call with reporters. "The American people simply do not recognize any validity in what they're saying."
Republicans, in turn, accused Democrats of political posturing.
"It sounds to me like Senator Reid is trying to accuse us of politicizing while he, himself, is politicizing the issue," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. "The comments that this administration has been making, including me, have been aimed at simply trying to get people to think seriously about, How do you achieve the goal of winning the war on terror? When you're in a war, the goal should not be how to get out. It should be how to win and then to get out."
Some Republicans suggested that Democratic rule could endanger the country.
"National Democrats are stone-cold guilty of engaging in a reckless and irresponsible pattern of neglect for the security of our citizens," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee.
Democrats sought to put Republicans on the defensive on what historically has been a GOP strength — national security. The heated rhetoric came a day after the disclosure of a thwarted plot to blow up flights from Britain to the United States. Within hours of that news, each party accused the other of doing too little to deter the threat of attack.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Cheney and Senate Republicans of politicizing the issue.
"They shouldn't. We should all be uniting and be together at this point," said Schumer, the head of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "But if they're going to throw the political bombs on this issue, we are going to answer them loud and clear, and we believe we have the political high ground."
In a written statement, Reynolds said Democrats were sounding a "defeatist, surrender message" and catering to the party's liberal base "that prefers a flag that is lily-white to a flag that is red, white, and blue."
The nation's safety looms large as an issue in the midterm elections less than three months before the Nov. 7 contest. Both Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for the political advantage.
On Wednesday, Cheney gave his assessment of anti-war challenger Ned Lamont's Democratic primary win over Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Iraq war supporter.
The vice president suggested that Lamont's victory might encourage "the al Qaeda types" who want to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."
He portrayed the Democratic Party as preferring that the United States "retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."
Snow said Cheney did not know when he made the call that British authorities were in the process of arresting the alleged plotters of the airplane bombing attacks. Snow said Cheney had been briefed on the plot, but the briefings did not indicate that action was imminent.
"The comments that were made after the Connecticut primary were in response to the Connecticut primary, and they were not in anticipation of a British action," said Snow, who also suggested Wednesday that the Lamont victory showed Democrats have the wrong position on the war on terror. "I can say that with absolute assurance not only with regard to me, but also the vice president."
Reid took issue with the vice president's comments, saying, "This situation isn't going well and anyone that suggests that the people of Connecticut are somehow supporting terrorists, I don't think that's credible and that's what Cheney suggested."
Democrats also criticized the RNC for e-mailing a fundraising appeal mentioning the war on terror hours after British authorities disclosed they had disrupted the plot.
The RNC blamed a low-level staffer for distributing the fundraising appeal, which the party said had been scheduled for release before news of the plot broke. The RNC said it stopped distributing the e-mail when it learned of the error.
Snow said it's unclear if Democrats and Republicans can come together and agree on the best policies to fight the war on terror.
"I don't know, in today's congressional climate whether we can do this," Snow said.