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Quayle to Governors: Back Bush on Gulf : Policy: A speech to GOP state executives is the Administration’s first effort to send a partisan message in the debate.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Sharply criticizing congressional Democrats for “playing politics” with the Mideast crisis, Vice President Dan Quayle on Monday called upon Republican governors to help rally support for President Bush’s policies in the Persian Gulf.

The vice president’s speech represented the first full-blown effort by a high Administration official to cast in partisan terms the escalating debate over war and peace in the Mideast.

In language made sharper by its sarcastic edge, Quayle zeroed in on the hearings Congress has held on developments in the gulf in recent weeks. “They felt compelled to have hearings, but not compelled to allow the full Congress to vote on the actions taken by the President,” he told the annual gathering of Republican state chief executives at a resort hotel in this central North Carolina town.

“After all, congressmen like hearings, because they are allowed the luxury of criticism without the burden of accountability,” he said.

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The vice president said the Congress could help foster the success of Secretary of State James A. Baker III’s forthcoming mission to Baghdad, Iraq, to meet with Saddam Hussein if it was “solidly united behind the President.”

“But that would require Congress to resist the temptation to use the current hearings on the gulf for partisan political advantage,” he said. “Unfortunately, by portraying themselves as the party of peace, and the Administration as the party of war, some congressional Democrats--but by no means all congressional Democrats--seem to have placed partisanship above statesmanship.”

During the hearings, influential Democratic leaders contended that it would be wiser for the President to allow more time for the economic sanctions against Iraq to work rather than to take military action immediately after the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

Quayle complained that the first witnesses at the hearings--including Robert S. McNamara, who was defense secretary in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and historian Arthur Schlesinger--were critical of the Administration’s policies.

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Not until later, he pointed out, was testimony heard from pro-Administration witnesses such as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell. Quayle said they were “clear, candid and convincing” in explaining U.S. objectives in the gulf.

“Congress has not even sworn in its new members, yet already it is playing politics,” he charged.

In his nine-page text, which he carefully followed in addressing the GOP leaders of 15 states in attendance, Quayle mixed stern criticism of Congress with optimism that the lawmakers would ultimately give the President the backing he sought.

Quayle’s press secretary, David Beckwith, said the speech had been approved by the White House. Asked if this was the beginning of a campaign to lash out at Congress, Beckwith said, “We think this one time will take care of the problem.”

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