Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry said Thursday that the final report from the Sept. 11 commission makes it clear that Americans are not as safe as they should be, in part because of disputes within the Bush administration.
Kerry said reforms of U.S. intelligence-gathering are “long overdue.” He said some changes should have begun before President Bush’s tenure, but the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, brought the problems to the forefront.
“Unfortunately, this administration had an ongoing war between the State Department, the Defense Department, the White House — people have been at odds,” Kerry told reporters after a speech to the Urban League. “Everybody knows it. They’ll deny it. But everybody does know it. And the fact is that it has struggled — it has created a struggle that has delayed our ability to move forward.”
Kerry said if he is elected president and Bush has not acted on the commission’s findings, he will immediately convene an emergency security summit. Members would include congressional leaders from both parties, leaders of agencies that fight terrorism and the Sept. 11 commissioners.
‘There are imperatives’
“There are imperatives that we must move on rapidly,” Kerry said.
Kerry said although he hasn’t read the full report, he was briefed on the findings by the leaders of the commission, Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, just before a speech to the Urban League’s convention.
Other Democrats also used the release of the report to criticize the Bush administration's record on security.
“What the report does make clear is that the Bush administration did not give al-Qaida the high priority it should have had, either before or after 9/11," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "The administration put Iraq, not al-Qaida, at the top of its agenda when it came to office in 2001.”
Others turned their rhetorical guns on the Republican leadership in Congress.
“The alarm bells that we’ve been hearing for months continue to fall on deaf ears here in the U.S. Senate," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "I hope the 9/11 report will finally push our Republican leadership to bring up the homeland security appropriations bill and other homeland security measures.”
Republicans muted in reaction
Reaction among GOP lawmakers was for the most part muted.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who previously had expressed doubts that Congress could act on creation of a new intelligence czar this year, said lawmakers would move quickly but without haste.
“We will look at their recommendations carefully," he said. "I will ask our committee chairmen to hold hearings on these recommendations over the next several months, so we can act on them as quickly as possible.”
Many lawmakers also echoed President Bush in praising the Sept. 11 commission.
“I think that the commission really did an outstanding job when you consider the political nature of this town that seeps into absolutely everything," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. "So, the fact that they had a bipartisan, unanimous report is a miracle in itself.”