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Kerry chastises Rice for 9/11 commission absence

Bush campaign: Senator trying to 'politicize' panel's work

From Phil Hirschkorn

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Rice faces calls to testify on 9/11

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- Presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry chastised national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Saturday for refusing to testify publicly before the 9/11 commission and accused the Bush administration of conducting "character assassination" against people who say things the White House doesn't like.

"If Condoleezza Rice can find time to do '60 Minutes' on television before the American people, she ought to find 60 minutes to speak to the commission under oath," Kerry said while campaigning Saturday.

Rice met privately for several hours with the commission in February, but the White House has said the rules of executive privilege preclude administration staff members, such as Rice, from appearing before a panel formed by Congress.

She has offered to participate in a second private meeting, but the commission has asked her to testify publicly under oath.

"The secretary of state, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the undersecretary of state ... go up there and raise their right hand and talk under oath to make America safer," Kerry said. "Certainly, we can find a way to respect executive privilege -- not to have it be an opening of the door -- but nevertheless to accomplish America's needs to protect the security of our country."

The Bush-Cheney campaign issued a written statement calling Kerry's attack on Rice "part of the Democrats' strategy to politicize the work of the 9/11 commission."

"John Kerry seeks to distract Americans from his own failed ideas for protecting America from future attacks," Bush-Cheney spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said. "John Kerry's backward-looking approach would return us to the failed policies of treating terror as a law-enforcement matter."

She added, "He harped on [Rice's] testifying publicly under oath in a way that makes it clear that he is questioning her integrity and the integrity of the meetings that she spent with the commissions."

Money matters

Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to boast that "America's economy is strong and it is getting stronger," but Kerry said the president's remarks show that he "still doesn't get it."

Bush cited a Census Bureau report that homeownership grew 24 percent during the past year -- to 68 percent -- and he promoted his proposals to help low-income families become homeowners.

"This success follows one of the most impressive years in America's housing industry," Bush said. "More homes were sold in 2003 than ever before. Housing starts last year were at their highest level in a quarter-century. Rising home values have helped take the wealth of American households to a new record level."

Bush said the growing economy means more Americans can buy homes.

"Incomes are rising," Bush said. "The unemployment rate is falling. Mortgage rates are low. And because of tax relief, Americans have more to save, spend and invest. And that means millions of American families have moved into their first homes."

Bush said he was asking Congress to budget $200 million per year to fund the American Dream Down Payment Act, "which will help low-income Americans to afford the down payment and closing costs on their first home."

Kerry issued a statement Saturday headlined: "Worst job loss since Great Depression, Bush can't see the problem."

"Nearly 3 million Americans have lost their jobs since George Bush took office, and the president's response is to give himself a pat on the back," the statement said. "American jobs are being shipped overseas, health care costs are overwhelming working families and George Bush still doesn't get it."

Kerry was unimpressed with the figures and plans Bush lauded in his address. "Even in the so-called 'recovery' after 9/11 and the recession, Bush's jobs record is abysmal. Since the recession ended in November 2001, we have lost 1.3 million private sector jobs."

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