Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt, who is taking a first step toward a White House bid in 2004, said Saturday that President Bush is offering poor leadership at a critical time in the nation's history.
"On nearly every issue of importance to the country -- national security, the economy, health care, education, energy policy -- President Bush is leading the country either down the wrong path or not leading at all," Gephardt said in a statement.
"I look forward to challenging President Bush and offering a distinctive choice and different direction for our domestic, economic and national security policies," said Gephardt, the outgoing House Democratic leader from Missouri.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan took issue with Gephardt's assessment.
"The president's leadership is clear," she said. "His focus is on waging the war on terror, on defending our homeland and on strengthening America's economy and we're making great progress on all fronts."
The 61-year-old Gephardt, who ran unsuccessfully in 1988, plans to file papers for his presidential exploratory committee on Monday.
Gephardt said he is naming S. Lee Kling of St. Louis, a leading fund-raiser for Democrats over the years, as treasury of the committee.
Kling has been an adviser in the past to Gephardt and to former President Jimmy Carter, and was named a part-time voluntary adviser to Missouri Gov. Bob Holden in in January 2001.