LOS ANGELES, Aug. 12 -- President Bush defended himself from Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's criticism that Bush reacted passively for several minutes after learning that the nation was under terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's easy to second-guess a moment," Bush told CNN's Larry King, adding that his actions in the hours and days after the attacks showed that he quickly "recognized we were at war" and acted appropriately to mobilize the nation.
Kerry, picking up on an angle pursued by filmmaker Michael Moore in the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," has suggested he would have acted with more poise and decisiveness than Bush. The president continued reading with a group of Florida schoolchildren for several minutes after his chief of staff whispered news of the second attack in the president's ear.
Bush said he was collecting his thoughts while staying with the children, and suggested what he did in the first minutes is beside the point. "What is relevant," he said, "is whether or not I understand and understood then the stakes. . . . And I made a determination that we would do everything we could to bring those killers to justice and to protect the American people."
Shortly before the taped interview, Bush paid Nancy Reagan a courtesy call Thursday afternoon. White House aides described the visit as an hour-long exchange of pleasantries that did not touch on the former first lady's disagreement with the administration on the issue of stem cell research.
After the meeting, Reagan said, "I repeated my full support of his reelection and my hope that everyone will join in supporting his campaign."
He also appeared with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who drew laughs by saying he is planning on creating "Bodybuilders for Bush-Cheney" and "Girly-Men for Bush-Cheney" chapters in California for Bush.
Reagan had requested several weeks ago to see Bush the next time he was in California, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, and the president and first lady Laura Bush obliged by dropping by her Bel Air home. "They had a good discussion, and Mrs. Reagan gave the president and Mrs. Bush a quick tour of the home," McClellan said.
If past performance and current polls are any indicator, Bush does not have much chance of seriously contesting this Democratic-leaning state's 54 electoral votes, but he can still harvest its GOP donors for money. That was the main purpose of this trip. The Santa Monica fundraiser with Schwarzenegger reaped funds for the Republican National Committee. The occasionally syntax-mangling president joked that he and the governor, a native of Austria, "both have trouble with the English language."
Schwarzenegger's appearance with Bush continued the political dance between the president and the leader of the biggest state. Schwarzenegger will be a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in New York this month, but he has not yet committed to campaign on Bush's behalf outside of California.