Kerry brought up port security in the first debate on September 30, 2004:
LEHRER: We’ll come back to Iraq in a moment. But I want to come back to where I began, on homeland security. This is a two-minute new question, Senator Kerry.
As president, what would you do, specifically, in addition to or differently to increase the homeland security of the United States than what President Bush is doing?
KERRY: Jim, let me tell you exactly what I’ll do. And there are a long list of thing. First of all, what kind of mixed message does it send when you have $500 million going over to Iraq to put police officers in the streets of Iraq, and the president is cutting the COPS program in America?
What kind of message does it send to be sending money to open firehouses in Iraq, but we’re shutting firehouses who are the first- responders here in America.
The president hasn’t put one nickel, not one nickel into the effort to fix some of our tunnels and bridges and most exposed subway systems. That’s why they had to close down the subway in New York when the Republican Convention was there. We hadn’t done the work that ought to be done.
The president — 95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida, are not inspected. Civilians get onto aircraft, and their luggage is X-rayed, but the cargo hold is not X- rayed.
Does that make you feel safer in America?
This president thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut rather than invest in homeland security. Those aren’t my values. I believe in protecting America first.
And long before President Bush and I get a tax cut — and that’s who gets it — long before we do, I’m going to invest in homeland security and I’m going to make sure we’re not cutting COPS programs in America and we’re fully staffed in our firehouses and that we protect the nuclear and chemical plants.
The president also unfortunately gave in to the chemical industry, which didn’t want to do some of the things necessary to strengthen our chemical plant exposure.
And there’s an enormous undone job to protect the loose nuclear materials in the world that are able to get to terrorists. That’s a whole other subject, but I see we still have a little bit more time.
Let me just quickly say, at the current pace, the president will not secure the loose material in the Soviet Union — former Soviet Union for 13 years. I’m going to do it in four years. And we’re going to keep it out of the hands of terrorists.
LEHRER: Ninety-second response, Mr. President.
BUSH: I don’t think we want to get to how he’s going to pay for all these promises. It’s like a huge tax gap. Anyway, that’s for another debate.
So, port security is too expensive. After all, we can’t risk those tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy, and attacking Iraq was more important than going after al Qaeda or defending the United States. When Bush said this was for another debate, it did come up again in the third debate on October 13, 2004:
KERRY (FROM THE OPENING STATEMENT): Will we ever be safe and secure again? Yes. We absolutely must be. That’s the goal.
Now, how do we achieve it is the most critical component of it.
I believe that this president, regrettably, rushed us into a war, made decisions about foreign policy, pushed alliances away. And, as a result, America is now bearing this extraordinary burden where we are not as safe as we ought to be.
The measurement is not: Are we safer? The measurement is: Are we as safe as we ought to be? And there are a host of options that this president had available to him, like making sure that at all our ports in America containers are inspected. Only 95 percent of them — 95 percent come in today uninspected. That’s not good enough.
People who fly on airplanes today, the cargo hold is not X-rayed, but the baggage is. That’s not good enough. Firehouses don’t have enough firefighters in them. Police officers are being cut from the streets of America because the president decided to cut the COPS program.
So we can do a better job of homeland security. I can do a better job of waging a smarter, more effective war on terror and guarantee that we will go after the terrorists.
I will hunt them down, and we’ll kill them, we’ll capture them. We’ll do whatever is necessary to be safe.
This was hardly the first time Kerry discussed this during the campaign. From his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, July 29, 2004:
Today, our national security begins with homeland security. The 9/11 commission has given us a path to follow, endorsed by Democrats, Republicans and the 9/11 families. As president, I will not evade or equivocate; I will immediately implement all the recommendations of that commission.
We shouldn’t be letting 95 percent of our container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected. We shouldn’t be leaving nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection. And we shouldn’t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.
Further information on Kerry’s plan for port security in the 2004 race here.