Democrat John Kerry (search), a critic of the Bush administration and its handling of U.S. intelligence, offered a measured response Thursday to the final report from the Sept. 11 commission (search), saying it underscored that reforms are long overdue.
Saying "this is not a time for bickering ... not a time for politics," the presidential candidate said the report was a call for Democrats and Republicans to produce bipartisan solutions.
"Nearly three years after terrorists have attacked our shores and murdered our loved ones, this report carries a very simple message for all of America about the security of all Americans — we can do better," Kerry said shortly after the report was released.
The four-term Massachusetts senator avoided heaping all the blame on President Bush (search). Still, he said it was unfortunate that the White House delayed the commission's work and improvements to the nation's security.
"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 (search). "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 he agreed with the commission's finding that members of Congress share responsibility because they had clear warning of the attacks. But, he said, "the executive department has the ability to lead. Congress, regrettably, just by nature, has a harder time doing that."
Just last week, Kerry argued that nearly three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "this president has not taken action sufficient to fix the intelligence problems that have plagued us."
The candidate, who will accept his party's nomination next week in Boston, is seeking to persuade voters that he is not only worthy to be president but also capable of serving as commander in chief.
In his remarks Thursday, 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.
Kerry's running mate John Edwards, who has complained about the administration's performance, also adopted a tempered tone.
"We should not focus on blame," Edwards said at a brief news conference before heading to Hartford, Conn., for a fund-raiser. "We had thousands of Americans who lost their lives on Sept. 11 and it's very important for those of us in positions of responsibility to pay the greatest tribute we can pay to them, which is to take action."
The North Carolina lawmaker is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Kerry said he hadn't read the full report but was briefed on the findings by the leaders of the commission, Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, just before his speech.
The organization was meeting in Detroit, a Democratic stronghold in a key presidential battleground state. President Bush planned to address the group on Friday.
Kerry outlined his urban agenda for the group, including his new zero-tolerance policy for gang violence and increased spending on programs aimed at steering urban youth from crime. Kerry's increased investment in fighting gangs would be relatively small at $400 million over 10 years.
Kerry also received the formal endorsement from Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has remained in the presidential race despite Kerry's obvious lock on the party's nomination.