President Bush on Thursday sought to smooth over differences with Sen. John McCain by promising to take legal action to stop political ads by outside groups, including those attacking the war record of Bush’s Democratic presidential rival, John Kerry.
The White House said the president made the commitment to McCain in a telephone call from Air Force One, hoping to head off a public confrontation when the Arizona Republican and Vietnam veteran campaigns with Bush next week.
The Bush campaign said it, rather than the White House, would file a lawsuit in federal court to try to force the Federal Election Commission to crack down on the ads. But the case could bog down in the courts, and thus might have little impact before the Nov. 2 election.
McCain has called on Bush to do more to end ads by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has accused Kerry, McCain’s friend, of lying about his Vietnam War service.
Although McCain has also asked Bush to condemn the ads directly, which he has not done, the senator in a statement praised Bush’s “commitment” and said he would work “with the president, both in the courts and through legislation, to force” the FEC to act.
The Kerry campaign brushed aside the proposal and renewed its call on Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads. “This White House is desperately trying to avoid coming clean about its role in smearing John Kerry’s heroic war record,” said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.
Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the campaign would seek a court order to compel the FEC to act on the campaign’s original complaint about outside groups, filed March 31. He said the court could order the FEC to act within 30 days.
The White House made the announcement as Bush emerged from seclusion at his Crawford, Texas ranch and started a week of intense campaigning before next week’s Republican convention in New York. Bush kicked off the eight-state sprint with a raucous rally in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a state he lost to Democrat Al Gore by just 366 votes in 2000.
Bush was accompanied for the first time on the campaign by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican whose response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made him a national figure and popular with independent voters.
Bush has yet to directly condemn the Swift Boat ads but issued a blank condemnation against all outside groups funded by unregulated soft money. Continued …