SEATTLE – A potential Republican challenger to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in 2004 is calling for the lawmaker to apologize for telling students last week that Osama bin Laden’s nation-building tactics should be emulated by the United States.

“I think the statements she made about bin Laden are shocking, and they’re bizarre, and they’re uninformed,” said Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., in an interview with WorldNetDaily. “To try to suggest that bin Laden has a history of generosity and kindness that outweighs his hatred for America and his vows to destroy our country is just nuts.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Meanwhile, teachers from around Washington state have informed a Seattle talk radio host that Murray had made the same comments about bin Laden to their students. But despite comparisons by many of her constituents to Sen. Trent Lott’s recent controversial remarks, Murray’s statements appear to be generating minimal response from her Senate colleagues.

Last Wednesday, at the conclusion of a session with students at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Wash., Murray said she wanted to bring up a further point to add to their discussion about alternatives to war.

“We’ve got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?” she said in reference to bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Why are people so supportive of him in many countries that are riddled with poverty?”

Murray said, according to the Vancouver Columbian newspaper, that bin Laden has been “out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven’t done that.”

The second-term senator then asked the students to ponder: “How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?”

Nethercutt said he usually does not speak out against anyone in his state’s delegation to the nation’s capital.

Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

“But this one just hit me wrong because of the lasting implication it leaves with students who are impressionable,” Nethercutt told WND. “And to have a senator suggest that Osama bin Laden is a good guy and the U.S. hasn’t done anything to help people is just nonsense.

He believes an apology is in order.

“I think she should make clear to those students that she’s not criticizing the United States and praising Osama bin Laden, which to me it’s clear that she did,” Nethercutt said.

Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes contends that bin Laden was not building schools and health-care facilities but a terrorist infrastructure. Any benefits accrued by the people of Afghanistan or Sudan were done to buy off his protectors, he maintained in an interview with WND.

Bin Laden himself has denied that he and his followers are motivated by economic factors.

“Allah has ordered us to make holy wars and to fight to see to it that his word is the highest and the uppermost and that of the unbelievers the lowermost,” bin Laden said in a 1998 interview that included John Miller of ABC News. “We believe that this is the call we have to answer regardless of our financial capabilities.”

Comments heard before

Murray told the Tacoma News Tribune that she was shocked by the response to what she considered a free-ranging discussion conducted in the American spirit of free speech.

“I am astonished the Republican Party would try to spin out of control a conversation with high school students,” she said. “Republicans have been trying for six months to use the war on terrorism for political purposes.”

But school teachers from around Washington state say they have heard these comments before from Murray at similar gatherings of students, according to Seattle talk radio host and former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson.

“She is saying these things all over the state,” Carlson said on his afternoon, drive-time show on KVI radio. “A U.S. senator is misleading children about Osama bin Laden.”

Carlson’s caller lines were lit up from mostly angry listeners for three hours on Friday afternoon. Many insisted that Murray should resign, asserting that her remarks were more egregious than comments by Sen. Trent Lott, who consequently stepped down from his Senate majority post on Friday.

A listener from Gig Harbor, Wash., calling for Murray to resign or be recalled, said, “I don’t want my daughter growing up represented by this woman.”

Talk show host Lars Larson in Portland, just across the Columbia River from Vancouver, Wash., promoted his afternoon show Friday with a teaser, “Trent Lott steps aside … Sen. Patty Murray … should she do the same?”

On his website, Larson included a link to a recording of some of Murray’s comments to the students.

Senate colleagues respond

Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, responded to Murray’s remarks Friday in an interview with National Public Radio’s Neal Conan when asked whether the uproar over Trent Lott would be a permanent problem for his party. Bennett said he thought the “fuss” would fade when the next controversy comes along.

“Today’s cosmic story suddenly disappears when you turn to tomorrow’s,” Bennett said. “I read on the press now, for example, that Patty Murray, the senator from Washington, has praised Osama bin Laden in terms almost similar to the ones that Lott used for Strom Thurmond – that is, she said bin Laden is a humanitarian, and we are not, and that’s why we’re in trouble.”

Bennett said he believed “we’ll begin to see people parsing that statement and move on to the next crisis. Now Patty’s not the majority leader, so maybe nobody will pay that much attention to what she said. …”

Both a Republican and a Democratic senator minimized Murray’s remarks during an interview with Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday yesterday.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said he hoped that Murray would rephrase her comments.

“The idea that Patty Murray thinks we should pattern ourselves after bin Laden is not – I don’t believe she thinks that at all,” Biden told Hume. “I think it’s a very bad choice of words.”

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., given an opportunity to respond, said:

“Well, clearly what Senator Murray and all the rest of us ought to be talking about is our own public diplomacy. What do we do in that area – I wouldn’t want to use Osama bin Laden as she did – and she probably regrets doing so – as sort of a benchmark. That is a tragic thought.”

Hume then pressed Lugar, reciting Murray’s subsequent elaboration of her remarks.

“Well, hold on just a second, senator,” said Hume. “Let me just – let’s show you what she actually did say when pressed about this in reaction. She said, ‘Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. Bringing him to justice, dismantling his terrorist network and protecting our nation from further attacks must continue to be our government’s highest priority.’ She then goes on to say nothing that said – that retracted any of the stuff she said about his humanitarian philanthropy, if you will, and so on. So, the statement then to some extent stands. What about that?’

Lugar replied that in further discussions, he supposed that Murray “would say more.”

Hume told Biden that what he and Lugar were saying reminded him of the initial mild reaction to Sen. Lott’s remarks to Strom Thurmond.

“Different issue, of course,” Hume said to Biden. “Different arena. But a forgiving attitude toward a colleague who you feel, perhaps with some empathy, may have slipped up. But I wonder if a slip-up of this kind, portraying this man as a humanitarian benefactor and going on to say the United States, in effect, is not, is something that can be tolerated in a member of the [Democratic Party] leadership.”

Murray was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 107th Congress.

She was elected to the Senate in 1992 as a self-described “mom in tennis shoes.” She got her start in politics in 1980 when anger over Washington state’s cancellation of a pre-school program her children attended prompted a drive to the capital Olympia to lobby for funding. She says she hit a brick wall when a lawmaker said, “You can’t make a difference. You’re just a mom in tennis shoes.”

Murray then led a statewide campaign to restore the funds and eventually served in the state legislature before election to the U.S. Senate.

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