A Democratic National Committee radio ad released Aug. 12 says President Bush opposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security “for almost a year after 9/11.” In fact, he opposed creation of a new department for less than nine months.
It also says Kerry “fought to establish” the department. Kerry did speak in favor and voted for it, but wasn’t a cosponsor. He and other Democrats also squabbled with Bush over labor protections for its employees, a fight that delayed the department’s creation for several additional weeks.
The ad says Kerry “was fighting for legislation to cut off terrorist money laundering before 9/11.” And in fact, a section of a Kerry bill on money-laundering was virtually copied into the PATRIOT Act and praised by Bush administration officials.
The DNC radio ad is a rebuttal to Bush attacks on Kerry’s record on terrorism, which it calls “beneath the office of President.” The title of the ad is “Beneath.” Whether Bush’s statements are suitable or not is a matter of opinion that we won’t address here. The factual claims made in the ad we find generally accurate, though a bit exaggerated in places.
Democratic National Committee Ad:
Announcer: It’s beneath the office of the President. We were all together in this country after 9/11…and we all wish it had stayed that way. But now President Bush is attacking John Kerry on terrorism. And once again, his facts are wrong.
John Kerry fought to establish the Department of Homeland Security. George Bush opposed it for almost a year after 9/11.
And John Kerry was fighting for legislation to cut off terrorist money laundering even before 9/11. His proposal became a key part of the Patriot Act.
Now, John Kerry has a plan to fight terrorism the smart way…double the number of Special Forces…focus on nuclear terrorism…and rebuild our international alliances so we can fight terrorism together. John Kerry…a president to make us stronger.
Paid for by Democratic National Committee, www dot democrats dot org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
Puffery About Kerry
The ad claims “Kerry fought to establish the Department of Homeland Security.” (emphasis added) That’s a bit of puffery: Kerry did support the legislation but wasn’t a cosponsor of the reorganization bill or any of the related measures it incorporated except for one narrow bill — S.2554 — to allow airline flight-deck officers to carry firearms. (That gun bill’s main sponsor was Republican Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire. He introduced it May 23, 2002, and Kerry added his name as a co-sponor more than two months later, on July 25.)
Kerry spoke on the floor of the Senate on Nov. 19, 2002, and voted for creating the Homeland Security Department on the same day:
Kerry: We must act now to create this agency and to ensure that the United States Government is doing everything in its power to better protect its borders, coasts, cities, and towns.
The Democrat mentioned in news accounts most prominently as pushing the legislation was not Kerry, it was Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, whom Kerry later defeated for the 2004 presidential nomination. Lieberman was a co-sponsor, worked on the legislation in the Government Affairs Committee of which he is the top-ranking Democrat, and was one of the few Democrats invited to the White House for the signing ceremony.
Puffery About Bush
The ad gets it right when it says Bush opposed creation of the department at first. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said on Oct. 24, 2001 — six weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:
Fleischer (Oct 24, 2001):[T]he president has suggested to members of Congress that…there does not need to be a Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security is because there is such overlap among the various agencies, because every agency of the government has security concerns.
Bush didn’t change course until several months later. On June 6, 2002 he said during a national address:
Bush (June 6, 2002): As Governor (Tom) Ridge has worked with all levels of government to prepare a national strategy, and as we have learned more about the plans and capabilities of the terrorist network, we have concluded that our government must be reorganized to deal more effectively with the new threats of the 21st century. So tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.
Simple math shows that less than nine months passed between Sept. 11, 2001 and June 6, 2002. Calling that “almost a year” is an exaggeration.
Also worth noting is that a partisan fight over union rights at the new department consumed several additional weeks. Bush wanted flexibility to waive union rules in the name of national security and sought wide freedom to manage employees. Democrats opposed that with such determination that at times it appeared the legislation might fail. Both sides must share blame for that delay. Eventually, Bush signed the act creating the department November 25, 2002.
Terrorist Money Laundering
The ad accurately claims that Kerry “was fighting for legislation to cut off terrorist money laundering even before 9/11.” The DNC cites the International Counter-Money Laundering and Foreign Anticorruption Act (S. 2972), which Kerry proposed on July 27, 2000. It’s also true that at least one section of a later version of the bill – which Kerry introduced on Feb. 27, 2001 (S. 398) – was copied nearly word-for-word into the PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162) (sec. 101 and sec. 311, respectively) and praised by administration officials. Deput Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Juan C. Zarate said on June 23, 2004:
Zarate: The USA PATRIOT Act and the power of Section 311 represent some of the key resources in Treasury’s arsenal to protect the U.S. financial system and combat terrorist financing and financial crimes.
Kerry’s Plan to Fight Terrorism
It’s true, as the ad claims, that Kerry has a plan to fight terrorism, and its various parts are posted on the Kerry-Edwards Web site. As stated in the ad, Kerry promises to double the number of special forces, focuses on the possibility of nuclear terrorism as the greatest threat facing the country, and constantly talks of rebuilding international alliances. Whether it’s “the smart way” and whether Kerry would be “a president to make us stronger” are, of course, matters of opinion that we won’t address here. As to the facts, the ad is reasonably on target.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 107th Congress – 2nd Session, H.R. 5005, Vote #249, 19 Nov. 2002.
“Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer,” 24 Oct. 2001.
“Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation,” 6 June 2002.
Siobhan Gorman, “Vote Effort on Homeland Department Fails,” National Journal, 21 Sep 2002.
Richard W. Stevenson, “Signing Homeland Security Bill, Bush Appoints Ridge as Secretary,” New York Times, 26 Nov 2002.
U.S. Senate, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, S. 2972, Proposed 27 July 2000.
U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 1st Session, S. 398, Proposed 27 Feb. 2001.
U.S. House of Representatives, 107th Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 3162 (the “USA PATRIOT Act”), Proposed 23 Oct. 2001.
“A New Military to Defeat New Threats,” accessed at Kerry-Edwards official Web site, 26 Aug. 2004.
“New Strategies to Defeat New Threats,” accessed at Kerry-Edwards official Web site, 26 Aug. 2004.
John Kerry, “Fighting a Comprehensive War on Terrorism,” 24 Feb. 2004.