WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell joined President Bush on national television Tuesday in a call for the establishment of a new world order once the gulf crisis is over, but Mitchell faulted Bush for ignoring America’s domestic needs and for failing to make progress on a national energy policy.
“We have a crisis abroad. But we also have a crisis here at home,” he said.
Mitchell made those points in a text released to reporters here shortly before his 15-minute address on national television detailing the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address. It was the second time that Mitchell had presented the Democrat response to a presidential State of the Union address. The first was in 1986 after President Reagan’s speech.
Echoing President Bush’s call for national unity, Mitchell urged Americans to rally behind U.S. military personnel in the Persian Gulf.
“In the skies over Iraq, aboard the ships in the gulf, on the sands of Arabia, they’re Americans,” Mitchell said, “not Republicans or Democrats — but Americans who’ve answered their country’s call.”
Mitchell recalled the partisan differences leading up to the congressional resolution that permitted President Bush to go to war against Saddam Hussein. An overwhelming majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate opposed the war resolution.
“Now that war has begun,” Mitchell said, “we’ll work to see that it’s swift and decisive, with the least possible loss of life.”
From the war, he said, may come a better world order.
“Out of tragedy of war, we seek a world where the force of law is more powerful than the force of arms … We seek a world where justice and human rights are respected everywhere. Students massacred in China, priests murdered in Central America, demonstrators gunned down in Lithuania,” Mitchell said, “… are as wrong as Iraqi soldiers killing civilians.”
“We cannot oppose repression in one place and overlook it in another,” Mitchell said.
He continued, “But as critical as the gulf conflict is, the other business of the nation won’t wait. The president says he seeks a new world order. We ask him to join us in putting our own house in order.
“Our first priority must be economic growth,” Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, “The first step to growth is a sensible energy policy.
“For 10 years,” he said, “we’ve had no energy policy. We’ve just relied on imported oil. We must change that. We need a new energy program which encourages conservation, promotes the use of alternative fuels and reduces our dependence on imported oil.”
To emphasize that point, Mitchell joined 30 other senators in introducing legislation earlier in the day that would force auto companies to manufacture more fuel-efficient cars. The bill would require car makers to increase their average fuel efficiency by 20 percent by 1996, and by 40 percent by model year 2001.
Maine’s Republican lawmakers gave President Bush high marks for his rhetoric on the gulf crisis, but expressed some regret that he did not focus more on domestic issues in their appraisal of his State of the Union address Tuesday.
Democratic Rep. Thomas Andrews was unavailable for comment immediately following the address.
“A very inspiring speech,” said Sen. William S. Cohen. “He explained to the American people what our obligations are, what we hope to achieve in the future.”
Rep. Olympia J. Snowe said, “President Bush has earned wide praise for his performance in the face of Iraq’s brutal aggression. I join the president in his laudatory words for the brave Americans serving in the gulf.”