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GOP Sees Road to Revival Starting at Guantanamo
Fights Over Prison Closure, Transfer and Treatment of Detainees Gives Republicans Momentum for First Time Since Election
WASHINGTON -- Republicans have been able to drive the Washington agenda for the first time in months, and dent the top two Democrats' armor, by hammering away on antiterror policy and keeping the debate squarely in the GOP comfort zone of national security.
Some Republicans see in events of the past two weeks -- the culmination of a carefully developed GOP strategy and missteps by Democrats -- the beginning of a political comeback, and they plan to keep pressing the issue. Democrats say they still hold an advantage with the public on a matter more urgent to most Americans: fixing the economy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat whose claim that the Central Intelligence Agency misled her had brought matters to a boil, tried to change the conversation Friday. She refused to answer any further questions about whether CIA officials were forthright with lawmakers about aggressive interrogations of suspected terrorists. "I have made the statement that I'm going to make on this," she told reporters at her weekly news conference. "I don't have anything more to say about it."
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, followed his Thursday face-off with former Vice President Dick Cheney with another defense of his counterterror policies during a commencement speech at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday. "We uphold our fundamental principles and values not because we choose to, but because we swear to, not because they feel good but because they help keep us safe," he told the graduates.
The president has been compelled in recent days to offer a more detailed explanation of, among other things, his plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that houses terror suspects and others deemed "enemy combatants." Even fellow Democrats have distanced themselves from that decision over the past week.
The setbacks suffered by Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi this week may prove fleeting, and neither figure's power appears seriously compromised. Ms. Pelosi's support remains strong among Democrats and her hold on the speakership isn't in doubt, party officials said.
"This is just a dust-up that occurs often inside the Beltway," South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and chief vote-counter for his party, said in an interview. "She's not lost any ground with her caucus."
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said focus groups conducted this week across the country suggested the CIA issue isn't resonating with average Americans. "People are focused on [the] economy, security, health care," she said.
Yet a recent Gallup poll suggested Ms. Pelosi is taking a beating on the CIA matter. In a May 19 survey, 47% of respondents said they disapproved of her handling of it, compared with 31% who approved; 23% had no opinion.