SEATTLE, Washington - Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson said in Seattle on Thursday that fellow party leaders in Congress are wrong to abandon a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and wrong about an immigration bill that he said would split up families.
He didn't mention them by name. But in a clear reference to candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, Richardson said, "This race should not be about celebrity status or money or legacies."
Richardson is a former congressman, U.S. energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations. He says the race should be about qualifications and experience.
That experience, he said, convinces him that Democratic congressional leaders are taking the wrong approach to Iraq. He said that with timetables for withdrawal now out of the equation, Congress should instead vote to "de-authorize" the war, essentially repealing the Iraq war authorization.
"Since there are no weapons of mass destruction, there is no support of the American people for this war, you de-authorize this war," Richardson said.
Both houses of Congress passed a $120 billion emergency war-spending bill Thursday that will not require U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn. Just 86 Democrats in the House and 37 in the Senate voted for the full funding package.
Several times in his speech and in answers to reporters' questions, Richardson expressed his unhappiness with congressional leaders.
"I'm not in a good mood on this because I love my party," he said in response to a question from state party Chairman Dwight Pelz. "I love [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid. I love [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi. They've done a great job."
He said some in Congress are "worried about being called weak. But people want this war to end. This is what is singularly dividing this country more than anything."
Luke Esser, chairman of the state Republican Party, praised Democrats for passing the war-funding bill Thursday without timetables for withdrawal.
"Bill Richardson and the far left may not be happy, but the Democrats did the right thing," Esser said.
On immigration, Richardson said he couldn't support a bill like the one Senate Democrats propose that includes a guest-worker program with no labor protections for those workers.
Temporary workers should have health-care benefits, a right to join unions and the protection of worker-safety laws, he said.
Richardson also doesn't like the provision that would require illegal immigrants now working in the United States to go back to their home countries and obtain a visa before being able to return here legally. That would split up families, he said.
Pelz asked the 100 or so people at the Richardson speech how many had come from outside King County, and about half in the room raised their hands.
Jeff Smith, a veteran Democratic Party activist and former party executive director who attended the event, said that support from the outside-Seattle crowd is a big part of Richardson's appeal.
"He plays well, very well, in Eastern Washington and not just with Hispanics," Smith said. "To all those people who are looking for a Democrat, they can feel good about voting for, he's really the best candidate."
Smith has not yet committed his support to any candidate, but he said Richardson is among his favorites.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, attended, too, and said she backs Richardson. Prentice said that on his first day as president, Richardson could change the direction of the country more than any other candidate.
A Hispanic, Prentice said her support was not about sharing a heritage with the candidate.
"It's not about skin color," she said. "But it doesn't hurt."
David Postman: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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