Launching his latest campaign offensive, Vice President Al Gore attacked the Republican-led House and Senate this afternoon for being the “do-nothing Congress of the 21st century.”
The speech, timed for Congress’ return from its Fourth of July break, is the first part of a multi-day offensive Gore plans to make this week, in which he will criticize Congress for not passing legislation on a number of issues, including health care, education, the environment and gun control.
“Instead of taking bipartisan action for prosperity and progress, they have chosen a different course,” the Democratic presidential candidate told an audience at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. “It is time for Congress to listen to the people, and not the powerful.”
In his remarks, Gore outlined several pieces of legislation he wants the House and Senate to pass, including some he has made the focus of his campaign in recent weeks, such as a Democratic-sponsored plan to pay for prescription drugs with Medicare, and a Patients’ Bill of Rights that would allow patients to sue HMOs.
Gore also implored Congress to raise the minimum wage, and urged the hiring of 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes across the country.
Today’s speech was a continuation of comments Gore made on Saturday. It also marks the latest in a series of broadsides with a populist bent from the vice president, who has spent the last two weeks accusing major oil and pharmaceutical companies of price-gouging.
In each case, Gore has also sought to link his Republican presidential rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, to the issue, emphasizing his background as an oil executive and claiming that Bush has ties to the group Citizens for Better Medicare, which opposes the Democratic plan to use Medicare to pay for prescription drugs.
Today, as he did on Saturday, Gore also attempted to tie Bush to the issue by challenging him to work at spurring Congress into action.
“Let Governor Bush pick up the phone, call the leaders of his own party, and ask them to pass legislation instead of blocking it,” Gore said.
Responding this afternoon, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer called Gore’s remarks “pretty amusing.”
“The sitting vice president of the United States admits he’s not strong enough to lead the Congress, so he asks the governor of Texas to do his work for him,” Fleischer said.
Criticizing GOP Leaders, Not Voters Gore, trailing Bush in nearly every poll, finds himself in the position of criticizing Republicans even as he aims to reach out for their votes.
Aides in the Gore campaign are sensitive to the criticism that the vice president may be turning off Republican voters by hammering away at the GOP, and today’s speech seems gauged to appeal to working-class Republicans by singling out the GOP leadership, and not the party as a whole, for criticism.
“Republican leadership won’t let Republicans and Democrats alike join together, to do what’s right for America,” Gore said today.
“This is the do-nothing Congress of the 21st century — and the reason they do nothing is that the Republican leaders keep asking what they can do for the special interests,” he said.
By invoking the image of a “do-nothing” Congress, Gore is harkening back to Democratic President Harry S. Truman. In 1948, Truman trailed Republican challenger Thomas Dewey in some polls, but rallied to win after railing against a “do-nothing” Congress during the finals months of the campaign.
ABCNEWS’ Dana Hill in New Britain, Conn., Carter M. Yang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.