RNC Chief Defends Domestic Wiretaps

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 11, 2006

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman yesterday accused Democratic leaders of wanting to deny law enforcement officials the tools they need to defend against terrorism and criticized them for challenging President Bush's program of warrantless surveillance of potential terrorists.

In a sharply worded speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mehlman said Republicans do not question the patriotism of the opposition party leaders, but he added, "These are people we know love their country. The question is: Can they protect it?"

Citing national security, the federal judiciary and the economy, Mehlman said Americans will have clear choices in the 2006 election. He urged his audience of conservative activists to take the GOP message directly to friends and neighbors, rather than trusting major news organizations that he said have failed to understand the appeal of conservative ideas and leaders.

"We can't depend on the . . . mainstream media to do it for us," he said. "They got Ronald Reagan wrong, just like Democrats did, and they're still getting conservatives wrong."

Democrats have accused GOP leaders of trying to play politics with national security issues and have pointed out that the administration's covert surveillance program has even drawn challenges from some Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spoke after Mehlman, and he promised that on June 5 he will bring to the floor a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, and pledged a May vote on eliminating the estate tax, items high on the conservative agenda.

Frist said the amendment is needed to protect the majority of Americans, whom he said oppose same-sex marriage, from "the whims of a few activist judges" who seek to "override the commonsense of the American people." He added, "When America's values are under attack, we need to act."

A similar amendment failed to win the necessary votes in 2004.

Frist charged the Democrats with being leaderless and in the back pocket of liberal constituency groups such as MoveOn.org, NARAL Pro-Choice America and People for the American Way.

Claiming credit for the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and several conservative judges filibustered by Democrats in the previous Congress, Frist said Democrats were not speaking for their constituents when they opposed Alito. "It looked to me like they were speaking for those far-left, liberal interest groups," he said.

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