By late afternoon on September 11, 2001, U.S. politicians appeared to have closed ranks around the Bush
administration, professing their unqualified support of the president in the wake of the attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. However, some Democratic lawmakers weren't entirely singing
with the chorus of nonpartisan solidarity that the lawmakers' off-key rendition of "God Bless America"
seemed to evoke at the end of the day.
The American Prospect caught up with Pennsylvania Democratic Representative John Murtha on the
corner of First and Independence shortly after the Capitol had been evacuated at 11 AM on Tuesday. As
smoke from the burning Pentagon rose in the distance, Murtha roundly criticized the Bush
administration's "hands-off approach to the Middle East" and the president's turning a "blind eye" to the
region. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on
Defense, suggested that the attacks were the result of the "major failure of the Bush administration to
address this issue."
Murtha also criticized Bush's National Missile Defense System (NMD), saying that just prior to the
evacuation, he and his subcommittee colleague, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran, had discussed switching
$800 million the administration was requesting for missile defnese to anti-terrorism initiatives instead.
Murtha cited the recent six-week period of heightened security measures at the Pentagon and Ft. Myer as
evidence that the government had been on high alert, but had not been able to pre-empt the attacks. "It
takes a long time to penetrate these terrorist cells," said Murtha, "we have to continue to monitor them."
According to Murtha's spokesperson, Brad Clemenson, "[Murtha] has been critical of the president for
not putting enough emphasis on anti-terrorism. He perceives that terrorism is an immediate threat, and
missile defense is not so urgent."
Murtha is as close as a Congressional Democrat gets to a defense hardliner, and his public lack of
enthusiasm for the administration's national missile defense system raises the prospect that Congress
may have priorities other than the NMD in light of Tuesday's events.