WASHINGTON — George Bush, who has suffered unrelenting criticism for his passive role as vice president from his fellow contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Tuesday unloaded on Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, his chief rival and critic.
"Tell him to get off my back," Bush said in response to a question after a foreign policy speech in Washington. Bush defended his achievements as a businessman and government executive and charged that Dole's 27-year congressional career is not adequate preparation for the presidency.
"I'm not sure that being in Congress all your life is part of the answer. I think it may be part of the problem," Bush said. "We're running for President. That's an executive branch job."
Served in Congress
Bush served two terms in the House in the late 1960s, representing the wealthy Houston suburbs, then twice ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. He subsequently held a series of appointed jobs before becoming vice president, including Republican Party national chairman, director of central intelligence and U.S. representative to China and the United Nations.
In public opinion polls, Bush and Dole are far ahead of the other four GOP contenders, New York Rep. Jack Kemp, former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, retired Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. and former television evangelist Pat Robertson.
The vice president had refrained from criticizing his GOP rivals in the campaign, but the gloves came off Tuesday.
"How many of them (congressmen) have built a business? How many of them have met a payroll? How many of them know what it means when you add to the productive base of the country?" Bush, a former Texas oilman, asked.
"How many of them know foreign policy, from being there, talking to these leaders, not in a 'photo op' with a group going over there from the Congress? Tell him (Dole) to get off my back. He's just begun to see the Silkworms coming across his bow," he said, referring to Chinese-made missiles that Iran has used to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf.
Dole was told of Bush's remarks when campaigning in New Hampshire later Tuesday. "The record speaks for itself: I have a record of leadership, and he doesn't," Dole said. "I think he's feeling the heat. He's going to get into the campaign yet, isn't he?"
3 1/2 Hours in Senate
The Kansas Republican criticized Bush as having shirked his constitutional duty to preside over the Senate. Of the 1,100 hours that the Senate was in session last year, Bush was present for only 3 1/2 hours, Dole charged. "If he spent a little more time up there, he'd understand what leadership is all about."
Historically, vice presidents have spent little time on their Senate duties, generally appearing only on ceremonial occasions and to cast a rare tie-breaking vote.
Bush preceded his attack on Dole by paying lip service to the "11th Commandment"--that a Republican should never speak ill of a fellow Republican. "Please don't interpret what I'm about to say as a violation of that," he said before firing his broadside.
His political comments overshadowed his foreign policy address, a formula stump speech that broke no new ground. In response to a question after the speech, Bush defended his support for President Reagan's Iran-Contra policy but refused to divulge what advice or opinions he had expressed in private talks with the President.
"I'm not a kiss-and-teller," the vice president said. "I'm not going to go out there and try and look good . . . . I stood solidly with the President."
Nonetheless, Bush said the Iranian arms-for-hostages trade was "an aberration . . . a mistake, wrong, shouldn't have done it. We can never live that down."
Staff writer Michael Wines contributed to this story from New Hampshire.