Kerry urges extending 9/11 commission's term

NORFOLK, VA. — NORFOLK, Va. - Saying this is no time for excuses, Sen. John Kerry called on President Bush yesterday to extend the life of the Sept. 11 commission for 18 months to ensure that its recommendations are enacted.

"Backpedaling and going slow is something America can't afford," said Kerry, during a campaign stop in this Navy town. "You can't treat the commission's report as something that you hope will go away."


On the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, with the battleship USS Wisconsin as a backdrop and an enthusiastic, flag-waving crowd at his feet, Kerry touted his military credentials and his concern for the safety and security of the nation.

"If I were president today, if I had been president last week, I would have immediately said to the commission, 'Yes, we're going to immediately implement those recommendations and we want you to stay on the job another 18 months in order to help make sure we do the job,'" he said.


He called for the commission to issue a status report every six months on whether the government was properly reorganizing intelligence agencies to meet the terrorist threat and doing everything possible to make the nation as safe as it can be.

Both Bush and Kerry have embraced the work of the commission in recent days, and the report has emerged as a central element of the presidential campaign as each side struggles to get the upper hand in the debate about national security.

Kerry made his recommendation yesterday without consulting any members of the commission. But Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission, said Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a Republican, supported the idea.

"He hoped there would be some way to continue to speak out and take our case to Congress and the American public," Felzenberg told the Associated Press.

Kerry later phoned commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat and retired Indiana congressman, who told Kerry he supported allowing the commission to continue after its planned Aug. 26 expiration date, according to a Kerry aide.

The Bush campaign accused Kerry of politicizing the work of the commission, which released its report and recommendations last week.

"The president is making serious decisions in the Oval Office and John Kerry is making campaign trail promises," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, adding that the report said the nation is safer as a result of the administration's policies on terrorism.

The White House initially resisted efforts to form the commission, but in recent days officials have indicated that the president has a task force studying its recommendations and might sign several executive orders adopting some of them. The officials did not say which ones.


Rand Beers, Kerry's director of foreign policy, said the senator made his proposal because he is concerned that reports and proposals from blue-ribbon commissions and task forces often fall by the wayside.

"We all know that sometimes things simply get approved and boxes get checked and people forget about it," Beers said.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Government Affairs Committee will begin holding hearings on the commission's report Friday.

In Norfolk, Kerry was accompanied by retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn and Edward "Skip" Barker, who served with the senator in Vietnam. Both men vouched for Kerry's ability to lead the armed forces.

Kerry's combat credentials continue to be front and center in his campaign to unseat the president, offered as proof that he can handle the nation's security better than Bush.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.