Kerry Calls to Extend Mandate of 9/11 Commission
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2004; 6:44 PM
BOSTON, July 27 -- Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry called Tuesday for extending the mandate of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying it should keep working for an additional 18 months to help ensure that its recommendations are implemented.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Norfolk, Va., the four-term senator from Massachusetts said, "Now that the 9/11 commission has done its job, we need to do our job. . . . Leadership requires that we act now."
He spoke before the Democratic Party's national convention in Boston was gaveled to order on the second day of a process that will culminate with the formal nomination of Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, as the ticket to challenge President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the Nov. 2 election.
At a rally with thousands of Virginians at the Naval Museum in Norfolk, Kerry said that after the Sept. 11 commission issued its final report last week, he had called for immediate action to implement its recommendations.
Reacting more cautiously, President Bush has set up a task force to review the recommendations, some of which require congressional action. Bush has also indicated that he may act shortly on recommendations that can be implemented by executive order.
"Backpedaling and going slow is something that America can't afford," Kerry said. He said the commission's report cannot be treated "as something that you hope will go away . . . because this threat won't go away."
In Washington, Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) announced Tuesday that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Friday on the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations, Washington Post staff writer Helen Dewar reported. Kean and the commission's vice chairman, former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton, are both scheduled to testify.
Collins chairs the committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security and is the Senate's chief oversight panel. Lieberman is the committee's ranking member.
If he had been president last week, Kerry said, "I would have immediately said to the commission, yes, we're going to implement those recommendations, and we want you to stay on the job at least another 18 months to help make sure we do the job." The mandate of the 10-member commission is currently scheduled to expire on Aug. 26.
Kerry said the commission should keep functioning for another year and a half and issue status reports every six months to address questions such as whether the government is reorganizing U.S. intelligence agencies to meet terrorist threats, whether the nation is "building a true global alliance to fight the terrorists" and whether the United States is "leading and uniting the world, so that we isolate our enemies, not ourselves."
Calling on Bush and the Congress to act, Kerry said, "We cannot let politics get in the way of protecting the American people. This isn't about partisanship. It's about patriotism."
A spokesman for the Sept. 11 commission said its chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, supports the idea of giving the panel additional time to continue its work, the Associated Press reported.
But Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said of Kerry, "I think a lot of people will be suspicious that he's engaging in political gamesmanship," the AP reported.
Bush initially resisted the formation of the Sept. 11 commission, but agreed to it after intense lobbying by the families of some victims of the attacks. Kean said when he delivered a copy of the commission's final report to Bush at the White House last week that the panel had received unprecedented cooperation from the Bush administration.
In Boston, where Kerry is due to arrive Wednesday night and formally accept the nomination at the convention's closing session on Thursday, a Kerry adviser said the commission would not be asked to keep investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, but to maintain the pressure for action on its recommendations.
"Keeping the commission functioning and reporting every six months . . . is a very good way to bird-dog the bureaucracy," said the adviser, former State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin.
Rubin told reporters he was with Kerry when the senator first looked through the commission's report. "His reaction was, these things need to be done now," Rubin said.
Among the recommendations that require congressional action are the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center for joint intelligence and operational planning against terrorist threats, the creation of a new Cabinet-level position of national intelligence director and an overhaul of congressional oversight for intelligence and homeland security.
But other recommendations can be implemented primarily by presidential order, the Kerry campaign pointed out. These include the integration of the U.S. border security system into a larger screening network and the development of what the commission called a "comprehensive coalition strategy against Islamist terrorism."
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