House GOP Critical of Kerry's '71 Actions
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2004; Page A07
The presidential campaign spilled onto the House floor yesterday when Republicans attacked Sen. John F. Kerry's antiwar activities of 33 years ago. Angry and surprised Democrats defended their party's presumptive presidential nominee and, in at least one case, derided President Bush's military record.
The stinging exchanges took place in a series of one-minute speeches lawmakers can make on any topic. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) began the attack by denouncing the Massachusetts senator on the 33rd anniversary of his testimony before a Senate panel in which he sharply criticized the conduct of some U.S. troops in Vietnam. Kerry, a decorated Navy officer in Vietnam, became a prominent antiwar spokesman after his discharge.
Johnson, who spent seven years as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war, said the young Kerry "blasted our nation, chastised our troops and hurt our morale. . . . What he did was nothing short of aiding and abetting the enemy." Comparing Kerry to former antiwar activist Jane Fonda, Johnson said: "He's called Hanoi John."
The presiding officer, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), briefly cautioned members not to disparage senators by name, but other Republicans poured it on. Rep. John Kline (Minn.) said Kerry's service in the war "does not excuse his joining ranks with Jane Fonda and others in speaking ill of our troops or their service, then or now." Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Calif.), whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam, said Kerry's 1971 remarks angered Cunningham and his comrades at the time. "We do not need a Jane Fonda as commander in chief," he said.
Democrats tore up their prepared Earth Day remarks to defend Kerry. Rep. John B. Larson (Conn.) said, "We ought to rise above this here on the House floor and across the debate in this nation." Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.), a Navy psychiatrist during the war, alluded to Bush's record in the Texas Air National Guard then. People who served actively then, he said, have a right to speak out. "But if you were in the National Guard and you didn't show up, you were AWOL for a whole year, you've got real nerve to start an attack on John Kerry's character," McDermott said. "Some people were simply not available; they never showed up for their flight physical."
Bush has acknowledged missing a physical in 1972, which ended his eligibility to fly fighter jets, but he says he fulfilled his Guard duties.
Kerry has said he regrets some of the words he used in 1971 when he called U.S. leaders "war criminals," and said he had committed "the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers." On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Kerry said he is sorry some soldiers were angry about his words, but added: "I'm not going to walk away from that. But I wish I had found a way to say it in a less abrasive way."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company