The White House Keeps Congress at Home

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Iraq isn't the only foreign policy issue that is fraying the GOP's normally seamless support for President Bush. After the White House abruptly scotched a long-planned fact-finding trip to North Korea by a bipartisan delegation of House members, the members — led by GOP congressman Curt Weldon — wrote a blistering letter to the President on Thursday saying they were "dismayed and outraged with your decision to 'pull the plug' on our totally positive mission to North Korea." Two days before the delegation's scheduled departure for Pyongyang on Oct. 25, Weldon received a phone call from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, who said the administration had withdrawn its support for the trip and was canceling the delegation's use of a military plane. The five-page complaint, which was obtained by TIME, targets Bush's National Security Council staff, led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, for particular scorn and fury. "As individual Members that have cast extremely difficult votes and delivered speeches in favor of your major foreign policy initiatives and agenda — we are offended and believe you are being ill-served by your National Security Council Staff," it reads. "The treatment of the delegation by your national security team has been offensive and arrogant."  

But the most cutting paragraph of all, given that the letter was signed by six Republican lawmakers, might be the one that compares Bush unfavorably to former President Clinton. It cites several occasions when Clinton could have prevented congressional delegations from taking trips that he opposed, but never did. "As Members of Congress, constitutionally equal to the executive branch, we have the right and duty of oversight and fact-finding," the letter says. "To our knowledge, with the exception of travel to an active war zone, never has a president prohibited congressional travel." According to a spokesman for Rep. Weldon, the White House told him that "it wasn't the right time" for the delegation to visit North Korea, despite the fact that Weldon had been in constant contact with the State and Defense departments about the trip in the weeks and days before Card suddenly pulled the plug.

  Asked for a response, a spokesperson for the National Security Council gave this statement to TIME: “Given the progress the President has made on a multi-lateral approach to convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program, we believe any bilateral delegation to North Korea would be inappropriate at this time. We regret the inconvenience caused to Congressman Weldon and his delegation concerning this matter.”