Politics of 9/11 report: Who'll act first?

The White House, apparently in an effort to neutralize the 9/11 commission's report as a Democratic campaign weapon, has changed tactics and is now promising swift action on some of the panel's recommendations. Sen. John Kerry has embraced the panel's report, and promised a summit conference with Congress, if elected, to enact sweeping reforms.

President Bush, as late as Saturday in his radio address, was still keeping his distance from the report, promising only to "carefully examine" the commission's ideas. By Monday, however, as the Democrats met in Boston, the administration was reaching out to get with the program. The president's senior advisers consulted by videoconference, and Vice President Dick Cheney embraced the commission's work in a speech in Kennewick, Wash.

The president summoned National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to his Texas ranch to discuss what proposals could be put into effect immediately by executive order. These might include tougher immigration rules and better intelligence sharing. The key proposals - a national intelligence director and a counterterrorism center - would probably require congressional action. Congressional hearings are to start today - a change from House Speaker Dennis Hastert's line that no action could be expected before next year.

Until this week the administration had been standoffish about the commission, whose creation the White House had originally opposed. Although the panel faithfully observed a promise of bipartisanship and avoidance of any direct criticism of the president, still criticism could be read in the comprehensive narrative of the events leading up to 9/11.

For example, in a chapter titled "The System Was Blinking Red," the report published the full text of the section of the Presidential Daily Brief for Aug. 6, 2001, little more than a month before the deadly attacks. The title of the document, which commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste had Dr. Rice read aloud at a public hearing, was "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S." Dr. Rice dismissed the document as "historical."

Now, the president has convened a task force of national security and homeland security officials to work on implementation of the 9/11 recommendations. First it was the families breathing down the administration's neck. Now it's the Democrats. Would you call that flip-flopping?

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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