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Kerry hits Bush reaction to 9/11 attack news

'I would have attended to it'

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Kerry says he would have acted differently to news of 9/11 attacks
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Thursday he would have handled news of the al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon differently than did President Bush.

Bush was told of the suicide hijackings while he was in a Florida school classroom.

"Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whispered in my ear, 'America is under attack,' I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something that he needed to attend to -- and I would have attended to it," Kerry told the Unity conference of minority journalists in response to a question about what he would done.

Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt had this reaction to Kerry's comment: "The indecision John Kerry has shown on the war on terror is reflected in his incoherent explanations on his vote against funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and his inability to take a stand on whether or not he thinks the removal of Saddam Hussein was the right decision.

"These flailing attacks against the president are the result of a candidate who doesn't know what he stands for."

Getting the news in Florida

The independent commission investigating the attacks found that Bush waited five to seven minutes after White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him that a second hijacked jetliner had hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (9/11 panel report: 'We must act')

The president then excused himself from the classroom of a group of elementary schoolchildren in Sarasota, Florida.

Footage of a visibly shaken president continuing to read along with the students after being told of the attack is featured prominently in the anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." (Film sets new documentary mark)

But Bush told the 9/11 commission that his instinct was to project calm, "not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis," the commission reported last month.

Bush is scheduled to address the same forum, the Unity 2004 conference, on Friday.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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