- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

McCain defends Kerry

Arizona Sen. John McCain, arguably the Democrats’ favorite Republican, managed to step all over the Republican Party’s carefully honed message of the week yesterday by rejecting the notion that John Kerry is weak on defense.

President Bush and his campaign apparatus have gone to great effort to suggest the Democratic presidential contender would be an unfit commander in chief, picking apart his Senate voting record on weapons and defense spending.

“The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample doubts about his judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security,” Vice President Dick Cheney declared Wednesday. A day earlier, the Bush campaign released an ad saying Mr. Kerry had turned his back on U.S. soldiers by voting against an $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan last year. Yesterday, the campaign put out yet another ad accusing Mr. Kerry of waffling on military issues, the Associated Press reports.

Enter Mr. McCain.

Asked on two morning TV shows yesterday whether he thought Mr. Kerry was weak on defense, the Arizona senator batted down the suggestion. Furthermore, he chided both parties for waging such a “bitter and partisan” campaign.

“This kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice,” he said on CBS’ “The Early Show”.

As for Mr. Kerry, Mr. McCain said the senator would have to explain his voting record but he also told NBC’s “Today” show: “No, I do not believe that he is necessarily weak on defense. I don’t agree with him on some issues clearly. But I decry this negativism that’s going on on both sides.”

Inside scoop

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, shed some light on the thinking of President Bush in the early days of this year’s presidential campaign.

“Mr. King, who watched Mr. Bush talk to firefighters at a groundbreaking for a 9/11 memorial in Long Island last week, said he told the president on Air Force One on the way back to Washington, ‘I would have a hard time seeing Kerry comfortable with these guys,’ ” the New York Times reports.

” ‘And he said,’ Mr. King recounted, ‘ “I didn’t exactly grow up in deprived surroundings.” But then he said he thought he has much more in common with them than Kerry, and that it would come out in the course of the campaign.’

“Mr. King added that Mr. Bush told him that Mr. Kerry had won the primaries by building on ‘the hatred for me in the Democratic base.’ Mr. King said that Mr. Bush made the assessment without rancor and that the president thought the anger among Democrats would not be enough to propel Mr. Kerry to victory in a general election,” reporter Elisabeth Bumiller wrote.

“Mr. Bush also said, Mr. King recounted, that he had not expected the fiercely negative reaction to the use of images of the devastated World Trade Center in his first campaign commercials. Even so, Mr. King said, ‘he said it may end up helping because it’s bringing the debate back to September 11 more quickly than we could have anticipated.’ ”

Time to backpedal

“Democrat John Kerry [on Wednesday] woke up and realized he was in danger of morphing himself into antiwar fanatic Howard Dean — so he began backpedaling as fast as he could,” the New York Post’s Deborah Orin writes.

“Kerry hastily repudiated Dean’s bid to blame President Bush for the al Qaeda-suspected Madrid bombings.

” ‘It’s not our position,’ Kerry declared shortly after his spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, had defended Dean’s remarks.

“Then Kerry issued a surprise plea to Spain’s newly elected Socialist prime minister to ‘reconsider’ his decision to yank Spanish troops out of Iraq.

“Kerry probably felt a special need to distance himself from Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who’s the only foreign leader to publicly say he’s rooting for Kerry to beat Bush — because of Iraq.

“Until now, Kerry has tried to draw a distinction between the battle against terror, which he backs, and the Iraq war, which he blasts.

“Kerry’s problem is that the Madrid bombings link the two and make Spain look as if it’s appeasing terrorists.”

Cheney’s rebuttal

Vice President Dick Cheney not only gave Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry a tongue-lashing Wednesday, he accused the New York Times of inaccurate reporting.

Brit Hume of Fox News, in an interview with the vice president, noted that CIA Director George J. Tenet was on Capitol Hill last week, “and his testimony there led us to a news story that appeared in the New York Times, which began as follows: ‘George J. Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence told the Senate committee on Tuesday that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Vice President Dick Cheney and others. And he said that he would do so again.’

“Is that consistent with what happened, as you recall it?” Mr. Hume asked.

Mr. Cheney replied: “Well, first of all, Brit, the New York Times, to my knowledge, is the only paper that played the story that way. And I thought they overwrote it. That is to say, I don’t think what George said was fairly and accurately portrayed by the New York Times.”

Mr. Cheney said he and the president meet with the CIA director or his deputy about six times a week, and that new information would sometimes cause changes in judgments and conclusions, “and we adjust our statements accordingly.”

The vice president added: “That’s the way the process works. I think that’s the way George testified to the process. I thought the New York Times did not — didn’t get it right.”

Kerry’s mansion sale

“Sen. John Kerry sold his foreign mansion in Italy just weeks before he announced a run for the White House in January of 2003,” Matt Drudge reports at his Web site (www.drudgereport.com).

“Actor George Clooney purchased the stunning 18th-century mansion located in the Italian village of Laglio (50 miles north of Milan) from Kerry and his wife for $7,800,000. Clooney first learned about the listing from Brad Pitt, who had been holidaying with his wife, Jennifer Aniston, at Versace’s compound nearby,” Mr. Drudge said.

“While Kerry and his wife’s homes in the United States are worth at least $23,733,705, it is not clear if the candidate currently owns property overseas.

“The campaign has repeatedly denied requests for any information on foreign assets held by Kerry.”

Judging pay

The Illinois Supreme Court is considering whether Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has the authority to deny cost-of-living pay increases to about 900 judges across the state.

Two members of the Illinois Judges Association sued the Democratic governor last year after he vetoed a salary boost, a move made to help reduce an estimated $5 billion state deficit, the Associated Press reports. Oral arguments were heard Wednesday, according to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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