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Kerry Uses Time on Hill to Plot Coordinated Strategy

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry criticized President Bush’s stewardship of the economy Thursday during a rare appearance on Capitol Hill, where the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee met with colleagues to discuss strategy for the November elections.

Flanked by his fellow Democratic Senators, Kerry also refused to apologize for describing Republicans as “crooked” and “lying” during a campaign stop Wednesday in Chicago, a comment that has drawn the scorn of GOP officials. Instead, he sought to turn the discussion toward a negative political advertising campaign targeting his legislative record.

“I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks,” Kerry said. “I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country. I understand they’re going to start a series of attack ads on me tonight on three topics that have nothing to do with health care for Americans, nothing to do with jobs for Americans, nothing to do with education for our kids, nothing to do with cleaner air or cleaner water, nothing to do with making America safer in this world.”

Kerry, who has spent little time on Capitol Hil, met with House Democrats in the morning and later lunched with Democratic Senators. The afternoon discussion focused on “organizing a coordinated response,” said a senior Kerry aide, who added that the Massachusetts Senator told his colleagues he “anticipates the Bush White House to engage in endless attacks to distort his record.”

The aide noted the campaign is hoping House and Senate Democrats use their “full resources” to counter the attacks on Kerry’s legislative record. Leaders in both chambers pledged to do just that.

“We are with him all the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described Kerry’s meeting with her Caucus as “full of enthusiasm, full of unity and commitment to each other to work together to win this election.”

Kerry mainly focused Thursday on Bush’s handling of the economy, and he chastised Bush for choosing a Nebraska businessman — whose company had laid off workers at around the same time it announced plans to build a plant in China — as the nation’s manufacturing czar. After word leaked of Bush’s choice, the White House canceled a news conference announcing Anthony Raimondo’s nomination.

“Their manufacturing czar, the person they chose, has been a poster person for the very depths of their policy that have affected millions of Americans negatively across our country,” Kerry said.

He also sought to link the Republicans attacking him to the same people who tried to discredit Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 presidential nominating contest by questioning his “record as a prisoner of war,” and to those who criticized then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), whose patriotism was “challenged” in his failed 2002 re-election campaign.

“There is a Republican attack squad that specializes in trying to destroy people and be negative,” Kerry said. “I think the president needs to talk about the real priorities of our country. And that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Kerry also dismissed GOP charges that Senate Democrats are engaging in obstructionist tactics that have prevented several of Bush’s legislative initiatives and nominations from moving forward.

“Give us a real agenda, and the United States Senate can do real work,” Kerry said. “But if the work is to move America backwards, I will stand with my colleagues in fighting for the real priorities of the American people.”

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