New York Times reporters Helene Cooper and Carl Hulse's Saturday "Washington Memo" -- "As One Syria Trip Draws Fire, Others Draw Silence" -- defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial trip to Syria with familiar Democratic talking points.
"With a final stop in Lisbon on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi headed home to a Washington that is still ringing with complaints from senior Bush officials that her stop in Damascus to visit with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, bolstered the image of Syria at a time when United States policy is to isolate it.
"The tone of the complaints -- particularly Vice President Dick Cheney’s public characterization of her visit as 'bad behavior' -- contrasts sharply with the administration's silence about a similar trip to Damascus a week ago by Republican lawmakers, Representatives Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama.
"Nor was there much heard from the White House about a meeting that Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, had with Mr. Assad on Thursday, a day after Ms. Pelosi met with the Syrian president.
"Ms. Pelosi, in a telephone interview from Lisbon on Friday, said she could not account for the Bush administration’s assault, which she at one point equated to a tantrum. (She said her children were teasing her about Mr. Cheney’s accusation of bad behavior.) Defending her trip, Ms. Pelosi said that members of Congress had a responsibility to play a role in national security issues and that they needed to be able to gather information on their own, and not be dependent on the White House.
"'I am used to the administration; nothing surprises me,' she said. 'Having said that, I hope we can have the opportunity to convey to the president what we saw.'
The Times only briefly addressed Pelosi's misstatement that Israel was ready for peace talks with the terrorist state of Syria:
"Ms. Pelosi, as House speaker, outranks her other touring Congressional colleagues, and is the highest-ranking United States official to visit Damascus in years. Still, the criticism from Bush officials was sharp, particularly about Ms. Pelosi’s delivery of a message to Mr. Assad that Israel was ready for peace talks. The office of the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, later issued a statement saying that such talks could take place only if Syria stopped assisting terrorist groups."
Otherwise, the Times came well-armed with Democratic talking points:
"Democrats say the complaints have a certain political expediency to them, and note that many of the same people criticizing Ms. Pelosi’s decision to delve into foreign policy were fine when Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House, made his own foray into foreign policy back in 1997.
"The Republican House leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, criticized Ms. Pelosi’s trip, telling reporters that she was in Syria 'for one reason, and that is to embarrass the president.' In 1997, Mr. Boehner accompanied Mr. Gingrich to China, and called the trip 'very educational.'
"Ms. Pelosi, during the telephone interview, spoke at length about the value of the trip, the ecumenical makeup of the her delegation, the seriousness of their conversations with Middle Eastern leaders and the fact that most members of the delegation were steeped in these foreign policy issues. Ms. Pelosi also spoke of the Democrats’ determination to hold to the Bush administration line on issues they discussed."
Also on Saturday, the Times' lead editorial, "The Real Fumble in Damascus," expressed sympathy for Pelosi's plight (unlike a Washington Post editorial from last Thursday, "Pratfall in Damascus," which featured strong criticism of the Speaker).
The Times editorialized:
"So long as Mr. Bush continues to shun high-level discussions with this troublesome but strategically located neighbor of Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, such Congressional visits can serve the useful purpose of spurring a much needed examination of the administration’s failed policies."
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