WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint, already in the national spotlight for his "Waterloo" criticism of President Barack Obama's health care plan, stepped up his attacks Thursday in response to a TV ad targeting him.
DeMint labeled as "blatantly false" the Democratic National Committee ad's claim that he "supports no (health care) plan at all," dispatching lawyers to warn TV stations now running it in the Columbia, Greenville and Washington broadcast markets.
In unusually pointed terms, DeMint turned the tables on Obama, accusing him of blocking health care reforms while the Illinois Democrat was a senator.
"I've probably introduced more legislation to reform health care since I've been in the Senate than probably any other senator," DeMint said in an interview.
"The fact is, Barack didn't introduce any major reform legislation, and he voted against every reform measure," DeMint said.
Obama and DeMint clashed often while in the Senate together from 2005 until last November, when Obama resigned after winning the White House election.
Various political think tanks ranked Obama as one of the most liberal senators and DeMint as among the most conservative. DeMint heads the Senate Steering Committee, a group of conservative senators.
Two summers ago, DeMint used just three words -- "This is amnesty" -- to galvanize conservative opposition to immigration reform, which died in Congress after weeks of contentious debate.
Now, the Greenville Republican is being even more concise -- and drawing as much national attention -- for using a single word to denounce Obama's health care proposal.
DeMint's prediction that Obama's ambitious bid to overhaul the U.S. health care system "will be his Waterloo" has dominated Washington all week, leading Obama to respond Wednesday evening in a prime-time news conference and compelling the Democrats to launch the anti-DeMint TV ad.
As his comments to conservative activists last week continued to reverberate in Washington, DeMint said Thursday that he welcomed the attention.
"It worked the way it needed to," DeMint said. "We needed to get this debate out in public. I think we've got millions of Americans engaged."
On the heels of its TV ad targeting DeMint, the DNC planned to launch a broader nationwide spot Friday criticizing DeMint, fellow S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Republicans for opposing Obama's health care plan.
DeMint achieved a tactical victory Thursday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed until September consideration of health care legislation being crafted by top Obama aides and Democratic congressional leaders.
"Americans are making their voices heard and beginning to win the health care debate for true reform, not a government takeover," DeMint said after the delay was announced.
The move came after House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, urged House members to postpone their August vacation if lawmakers fail to pass a bill extending medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.
"We must stay here and get this thing done," Clyburn told reporters.
Clyburn acknowledged that a morning meeting of House Democratic leaders was contentious as they discussed ways to woo more moderate and conservative party members concerned over the Obama plan's $1 trillion price tag.
Clyburn aides noted that the Senate Finance Committee still plans to mark up health care legislation before the August recess.
"That's an important step forward," said Kristie Greco, a Clyburn spokeswoman.
Asked whether Obama shares Clyburn's sense of urgency, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded, "Obviously, Congressman Clyburn and others know Capitol Hill quite well. The president continues to be encouraged that we're moving toward real reform, and we're focused on that and continuing that progress before we go canceling recesses."
In a conference call with conservative "tea party" activists last Friday, DeMint outlined a strategy to delay congressional action on the health care plan and then build grassroots opposition to it over the August break.
"If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo," DeMint said. "It will break him."
At his news conference Wednesday evening, Obama referred to DeMint's comments without mentioning him by name.
"I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to go for the kill," Obama said. "Another Republican senator (said) that defeating health care reform is about breaking me."
Obama added: "So let me be clear -- this isn't about me."
Against a video clip of DeMint speaking, the DNC ad's narrator says, "Senator Jim DeMint and congressional Republicans are trying to kill health care reform."
After airing DeMint's Waterloo remark, the ad says: "Senator DeMint is playing politics with our health care, putting the special interests in Washington ahead of South Carolina families and businesses. The only health care plan Jim DeMint supports is no plan at all."
ON THE WEB
To view the DNC health care ad targeting DeMint, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzbVNXNW35k
McClatchy Newspapers 2009