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Context of 'November 15, 2002: Limbaugh Accuses Senate Majority Leader of Treason by Opposing Iraq War'

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The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

President Bush invites a group of congressional leaders to have breakfast with him and Cheney in the White House’s private dining room to discuss Iraq. Present at the meeting are Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Bush tells the lawmakers that he needs a Congressional resolution authorizing military force against Iraq, and he needs it soon. During the meeting, Daschle suggests that it would be better to postpone the debate on such a resolution until after the November elections, so as to take politics out of the equation (see September 19, 2002). According to Daschle, Bush looks at Cheney, who replies with a “half smile.” Then Bush answers, “We just have to do it now.” [New York Times, 9/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 140; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 23] After the meeting, the lawmakers pass the word that Bush implied new intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program would be forthcoming. That new information never materializes. [Dean, 2004, pp. 140] In the upcoming days, many Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of attempting to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the upcoming midterm elections (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002).

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Gephardt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

White House officials, in interviews with the New York Times, describe the administration’s strategy to convince the public, Congress, and US allies of the need to confront Iraq. They say the centerpiece of the strategy will be Bush’s September 11 speech at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which they have been planning since at least June. (The speech will not actually make a case for confronting Iraq. Bush will first make his case to the nation in his October 7 speech (see February 20, 2001).) Explaining why the White House did not launch this effort in August when the administration’s plans came under intense criticism from a number of different quarters, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tells the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Card is the founding member of the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002 and June 9, 2008), which was formed to “educate the public” on the alleged threat from Iraq. The officials also tell the Times that one of the administration’s goals is for Congress to pass a resolution approving the use of force in Iraq within the next four to five weeks. “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it,” one administration official tells the Times. [New York Times, 9/7/2002] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The proposed hurry-up vote on the eve of the first election since 9/11 presented a win-win scenario for the White House: If Democrats voice caution or skepticism about the proposed war resolution (see October 11, 2002), then the GOP could portray them as weak on terrorism ahead of the election, and if Democrats supported the bill, then the Bush-Cheney administration would fortify its powers by eliminating even the suggestion that it might later need to ask for permission to launch any war against Iraq” (see August 2002). By mid-September, Republican Congressional candidates will make Iraq a central issue of their campaigns, proclaiming unwavering support for Bush and attacking their Democratic opponents. In New Mexico, Republican House candidate Mike Pence will say of his opponent, John Arthur Smith, who is still considering whether or not to support the invasion, “While Smith ‘reflects’ on the situation, the possibility of a mushroom cloud hovering over a US city (see September 4, 2002) remains.” In Minnesota, Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman will attack Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone for refusing to “stand with the president.” Similar tactics will be used in campaigns around the country. As a result, almost every Democrat facing re-election joins Republicans in supporting the war authorization. Savage will write, “Thus, even though the Founders wanted Congress to make the final decision about when the United States should go to war, lawmakers abdicated their responsibility and delegated their power to the president.” [USA Today, 10/13/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Mike Pence, Andrew Card, White House Iraq Group, Bush administration (43), John Arthur Smith, Charlie Savage, Paul Wellstone

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet give a classified briefing to some members of Congress in an attempt to persuade them of the immediate need to invade Iraq (see September 19, 2002 and September 24, 2002). After the briefing, several Democrats say they are unconvinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the US; some intimate that the White House is trying to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the elections. Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I know of no information that the threat is so imminent from Iraq” that Congress cannot wait until January to vote on a resolution. “I did not hear anything today that was different about [Saddam Hussein’s] capabilities,” save a few “embellishments.” She is joined by Tom Lantos (D-CA), a hawkish Democrat who supports the overthrow of the current Iraq regime, but who wants a special session of Congress after the November 5 elections to debate a war resolution. “I do not believe the decision should be made in the frenzy of an election year,” he says. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees: “It would be a severe mistake for us to vote on Iraq with as little information as we have. This would be a rash and hasty decision” because the administration has provided “no groundbreaking news” on Iraq’s ability to strike the United States or other enemies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Durbin’s fellow senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) adds that while he agrees Iraq is a valid threat, the White House must do more to convince lawmakers and the American people of that threat before asking Congress to approve military action. “If the president wants to have a vote before the election, he needs to give the military threat, or he risks looking political. With that timing, he will run the risk of looking brazenly political,” Bayh says. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) agrees with Pelosi and Durbin, saying, “What was described as new is not new. It was not compelling enough” to justify war. “Did I see a clear and present danger to the United States? No.” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) favors delaying the vote as well, but Daschle says he will likely allow the Senate to vote on the resolution if Bush meets several criteria, including obtaining more international support for a military campaign and providing senators a more detailed explanation of how the war would be conducted and how Iraq would be rebuilt. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one of the very few Republicans to oppose the resolution coming up for a vote before the elections. Most Republicans agree with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who wants the White House to submit a specific war resolution by September 23 so it can be voted on before the October adjournment. But an unnamed House Republican leader also seems to believe the case Tenet and Rice presented is weak: he says, “Daschle will want to delay this and he can make a credible case for delay.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; CNN, 9/10/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, Tom Lantos, Robert Menendez, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, House Intelligence Committee, Dick Armey, Nancy Pelosi, George J. Tenet, Evan Bayh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In a press conference, President Bush urges Congress to pass its resolution authorizing military force against Iraq (see September 19, 2002) before the midterm elections. “Congress must act now to pass a resolution which will hold Saddam Hussein to account for a decade of defiance,” he says. “I’m confident a lot of Democrats here in Washington, DC, will understand that Saddam [Hussein] is a true threat to America. And I look forward to working with them to get a strong resolution passed.” [White House, 9/24/2002] White House political adviser Karl Rove will later claim that the White House did not want the resolution to go up for debate until after the elections, a claim that is demonstrably untrue (see November 20, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) accuses Vice President Dick Cheney of politicizing the Iraq debate by urging an audience in Kansas to vote for a GOP congressional candidate because he supports President Bush on the issue (see September 10, 2002 and September 24, 2002). Dashcle says, “I must say that I was very chagrined that the vice president would go to a congressional district yesterday and make the assertion that somebody ought to vote for this particular Republican candidate because he was a war supporter and that he was bringing more support to the president than his opponent. If that doesn’t politicize this war, I don’t know what does.” Cheney was campaigning on behalf of Republican House candidate Adam Taff, running against incumbent Democrat Dennis Moore. Cheney told the audience of Taff supporters that the US “must not look the other way as threats gather against the American people” and that the “entire world knows beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein holds weapons of mass destruction in large quantities.… President Bush and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve our country. We thank you for your support—not just for our efforts, but for good candidates like Adam Taff who will be a fine partner for us in the important work ahead.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says, “It goes to the question of what the goal is here. Is it regime change in Iraq or regime change in the Senate?… If this is really designed to be dragged out to get it closer to the election and to obscure every other issue including the limited success of our war against terrorism and the economy, then I don’t give it much hope.” [CNN, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Adam Taff, Dennis Moore, George W. Bush, Tom Daschle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Tom Daschle.Tom Daschle. [Source: Salon]Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle blasts the Bush administration for trying to use the debate over the Iraq war resolution for political purposes, and for smearing the patriotism of Democrats who question the need for the resolution. After reading through a number of statements by White House and Congressional Republicans, including one from President Bush who said Senate Democrats were “not interested in the security of the American people,” the usually conciliatory and soft-spoken Daschle retorts, “‘Not interested in the security of the American people’? You tell Senator [Daniel] Inouye he’s not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they’re not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous. Outrageous. The president ought to apologize.” Inouye (D-HI) lost his arm while fighting in World War II. Daschle also cites a Republican pollster who says war as a political issue could tip the elections in favor of the Republicans, references Dick Cheney’s use of Iraq as an issue to promote the campaign of a GOP House candidate in Kansas (see September 25, 2002), and recalls White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s statement that “from a marketing point of view,” it makes sense to raise the issue of Iraq after Labor Day when lawmakers would be back from their August break (see September 6, 2002). White House press secretary Ari Fleischer counters that Daschle is taking Bush’s comment out of context, and is relying on erroneous or misleading press releases to make his charges. Fleischer advises to “take a deep breath,” “stop finger-pointing,” and join Bush in “protect[ing] our national security and our homeland defense.” Daschle responds to Fleischer’s comments by saying there is “no context” in which Bush or any other Republican can fairly question whether Senate Democrats are interested in national security. He says the White House’s explanation of Bush’s remarks are “not worth the paper they’re printed on.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) charges that Daschle and his fellow Democrats are unfairly attacking the president. “Who is the enemy here, the president of the United States or Saddam Hussein? [Daschle] needs to cool the rhetoric.” Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) retorts, “There is nothing more sobering than the decision to go to war. But the administration has turned the decision into a bumper-sticker election theme.” [CNN, 9/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, Andrew Card, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Saddam Hussein, Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Daniel Inouye

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh excoriates Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), accusing him of attempting to “destroy this country” by questioning the Bush administration’s rationale for war with Iraq (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002). Limbaugh directly impugns Daschle’s patriotism, accusing him of being a traitor and comparing him to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and World War II’s Japanese propaganda maven, Tokyo Rose. “What more do you want to do to destroy this country than what you’ve already done?” Limbaugh shouts. “It is unconscionable what this man has done! This stuff gets broadcast around the world, Senator. What do you want your nickname to be? Hanoi Tom? Tokyo Tom?… You sit there and pontificate on the fact that we’re not winning the war on terrorism when you and your party have done nothing but try to sabotage it.” One of Limbaugh’s callers accuses Daschle and the Democrats of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—a legal definition of treason—and says of Daschle, “He’s not interested in the safety of this country.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, “Tokyo Rose”, Rush Limbaugh, Jane Fonda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) responds to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s accusations that Daschle and Congressional Democrats are guilty of treason by not supporting the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (see November 15, 2002). Daschle calls Limbaugh “and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabees” of having “a shrill edge,” and says of his listeners: “They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to us in public life go up dramatically (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and on our families and on us in a way that’s very disconcerting. You know, we see it in foreign countries. And we think, well my God, how can this religious fundamentalism become so violent? Well, it’s the same shrill rhetoric. It’s that same shrill power that motivates. They—you know, they—that somebody says something, and then it becomes a little more shrill the next time, and then more shrill the next time.” Some media observers, such as the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, later say that such responses from their political targets merely elevate figures such as Limbaugh in their listeners’ eyes. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Howard Kurtz, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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