Washington Prowler

Democrats Off Base

Why the effort to keep a key colleague away from Camp Lejeune? Plus: Larry King cowers.

By 4.3.03

Senate Democratic leaders attempted to persuade Sen. John Edwards not to travel to North Carolina with President Bush on Thursday. "The White House was just playing politics, trying to make it look like we were on board," says a Democratic leadership staffer, in attempting to explain this seemingly incomprehensible move by the Democrats.

Edwards, of course, did not play ball with his leadership. While he has waffled word-wise in his support of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, he has for the most part remained vocally in the pro-take-down Saddam camp.

Bush traveled to Camp Lejeune, and spoke to more than 25,000 troops and others at a rally that surely raised everyone's spirits, the president's included. Bush had invited Edwards, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and five North Carolina congressmen to tag along with him on Air Force One.

Perhaps Senate Democrat leader have forgotten that even the Clinton White House made efforts to invite senators of both parties on presidential junkets that were more patriotic and bipartisan than overtly political in character.

That Bush would invite Edwards, who is challenging Bush for the presidency as he runs in the Democratic primary, "shows that we just aren't playing political ball the way the Democrats are," says a White House staffer. "They're the ones playing politics. It's important that our citizens see our leaders working together. That was the message, if you wanted to take one away from today. Really, we were just being nice."

Democrats in both the House and the Senate are getting increasingly edgy about the politics of the war, as U.S. forces continue to successfully pound the Iraqi military into the sand. "We aren't getting traction on anything right now," says the Democratic staffer. "I'm not sure any of our people know what to do." That is, other than act petty and unpatriotic.

On Wednesday night, CNN host Larry King had former Iraqi hostage and Newsday reporter Matt McAllester on his show. Most of America was riveted to TV on just about all of the cable channels to hear updates on the rescue of 19-year-old Army private Jessica Lynch and the release of McAllester and three other journalists from a Baghdad prison.

One of the released journalists, a Danish photographer, had detailed his own poor treatment -- not enough blankets or sleep -- but said it was better than anyone else's in the prison. He said he heard and saw Iraqi prisoners being severely beaten and tortured. Prisoners with their eyes gouged out and other horrifying human rights violations.

Unfortunately, viewers of the Larry King show didn't hear any of what went on in the prison because King declined to ask McAllester about it.

"We wanted him to ask about the brutality inside the prison, to get McAllester talking about the human rights violations," says a CNN producer. "But King didn't want to do it. I guess he didn't think it was that important."

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