Washington, March 9 (Reuters): The White House said today it was possible President George W. Bush could be questioned longer than an hour he agreed to by a commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks, an apparent concession that came after criticism from Democrat John Kerry.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked several times if Bush would stick to his insistence the session before the commission be restricted to one hour, said it was scheduled for an hour but that “the President of course is going to answer all the questions they want to raise.”
The shift in position came a day after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, attacked Bush on the issue at a time when the President was visiting a rodeo in Houston.
“If the president of the United States can find the time to go to a rodeo, he can find the time to do more than one hour in front of a commission that is investigating what happened to America’s intelligence and why we are not stronger today,” Kerry said.
Polls show national security remains Bush’s strongest attribute and the Democrats’ strategy is to try to raise doubts about him on this subject.
Bush’s overall approval rating is at 50 per cent, equal to the lowest of his presidency.
The Kerry attack put the White House on the defensive yet again as it has been for weeks under a barrage of criticism from Democratic challengers during their primary campaign.
The 9/11 commission is to complete its work by the end of July, after recently getting a requested two-month extension.
Republicans fear the commission’s findings could be politicised at the height of the presidential campaign if it were to show there was evidence the Bush administration failed to act on any tips that the attacks were being planned.
Democrats say it is hypocritical for the Bush campaign to use 9/11 images in television advertisements to promote his national security credentials while the President has refused to meet for longer than an hour with the commission.