Democrats Recall an Anniversary Bush Would Rather Forget

What a difference four years make.
What a difference four years make. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Four years to the day after President Bush made his now-infamous landing on the aircraft carrier, lawmakers observed the anniversary with the dignity Americans have come to expect of their leaders.

"Today is the fourth anniversary of the president of the United States announcing 'Mission Accomplished,' " Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.) proclaimed on the House floor. These days Bush "has been channeling Warren Zevon, who said, 'I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. Send lawyers, guns and money,' " Cohen said, paraphrasing the rest just a little: " 'The Shiites have hit the fan.' "

All parties in Washington had their goals for yesterday's remembrance of that day back in 2003, when an unduly optimistic Bush donned a flight suit and stood beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Democrats' objective: Draw attention to their efforts to end the Iraq war by forcing Bush to veto their legislation on the awkward anniversary. The result: Mission Accomplished.

The Republicans' objective: Complain about the Democrats' cheap political stunt at their own cut-rate political event. The result: Mission Accomplished.

Bush's goal: Make the bad memory go away. The result: Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Democrats openly delighted in the anniversary of the unfortunate photo op. "Was Halliburton's mission accomplished?" Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) taunted on the House floor.

Over in the Senate, fellow Ohioan Sherrod Brown noted that since "the president landed on an aircraft carrier amid a flurry of pomp and circumstance . . . 3,000 brave American soldiers and Marines have died."

Other lawmakers gave similar speeches and television interviews. A liberal group, Americans United for Change, announced a television ad mixing images of Bush on the aircraft carrier with carnage in Iraq. Antiwar activists, after Monday's display of a "Mission Accomplished" banner in front of the White House, announced plans for "nearly 300 rallies" for Wednesday.

Then came the Democrats' pièce de résistance: an "enrollment" ceremony in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the withdrawal legislation that Congress passed last week. Never mind that the Senate historian traces the origins of such ceremonies to 1997. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did everything but seal the parchment with hot wax and send it off in a horse-drawn carriage with a team of buglers.

At the stroke of 3 p.m., Reid emerged from his office clutching a 12-by-18-inch faux leather box decorated with blue ribbons and embossed with a gold seal. Escorted by a Senate parliamentarian, the duo brought the legislation to the middle of the Capitol Rotunda, where the House clerk escorted them to Pelosi's ceremonial office.

"You know, the president already vowed to veto it," a tour guide with a Caribbean accent told a group of children, who took photos of the procession.

Sitting at an oval signing table before a five-flag backdrop, the leaders "enrolled" the bill for Bush's promised veto. A reporter in the large media throng asked why Pelosi opted to "sign this bill four years to the day after the president's appearance on the Abraham Lincoln?"

"Today," the speaker said, not entirely accurately, "is the first day that I can sign the bill."

House Republicans added a last-minute news conference to protest the Democrats' showmanship. "We want to move beyond the political theater," announced Roy Blunt (Mo.), the minority whip, standing behind a lectern with a taped-on paper sign demanding "Fund Our Troops NOW."

A "cheap political charade," Phil English (Pa.) said of the Democrats' behavior.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook had a question. "How is this not also a political exercise?"

"This," Blunt volleyed weakly, "is just part of establishing an understanding."

Unfortunately, the Republicans chose a poor venue to establish understanding: an outdoor terrace where sunlight forced them to squint and construction noise drowned their speeches. "Uh, we had that truck come in just in time here," Blunt complained as reporters crowded in to hear him.

Bush, for his part, had flown to the safe confines of U.S. Central Command in Florida, where he gave a speech making no mention of the anniversary. Aboard Air Force One, reporters asked spokeswoman Dana Perino if Bush felt any "reluctance" vetoing the Iraq legislation on the anniversary.

"It is a trumped-up political stunt that is the height of cynicism, and it's very disturbing," Perino said of the Democrats' timing.

Bush himself didn't give Democrats the satisfaction of showing his pique when he spoke yesterday evening near the main entrance to the White House. It took him only 30 seconds to get to the point: "A few minutes ago, I vetoed this bill."

There was no faux-leather box, no blue ribbon, no teleprompter, and certainly no banner or flight suit or even a mention of that day. His speech was spare, not quite seven minutes, and he tripped over a few words as he read from his text.

"Many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war," he said. "They've sent their message."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company