Federal News Service September 8, 2004 Wednesday
HEADLINE: PRESS CONFERENCE RE: INTRODUCTION OF LEGISLATION TO IMPLEMENT THE 9/11 COMMISSION'S RECOMMENDATIONS
PARTICIPANS: HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA); REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ); REPRESENTATIVE STENY HOYER (D-MD); REPRESENTATIVE JANE HARMAN (D-CA); AND REPRESENTATIVE JIM TURNER (D-TX)
LOCATION: HOUSE RADIO/TV GALLERY, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
REP. PELOSI: Mr. Turner is going to be joining us, my understanding is.
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I'm pleased to be joined by our distinguished whip, Steny Hoyer; our caucus chair, Bob Menendez; the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman; and I know-believe we'll shortly be joined by our ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, Jim Turner of Texas.
We're here today to address the threat that the American people-that is posed to the American people by terrorism by working to enact the unanimous recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 commission.
Eighteen months ago, a joint inquiry by the congressional intelligence committees-of which I was the co-chair with Senator Graham on the Senate side, and with Senator Shelby and Porter Goss-we produced a bipartisan call for change in the structure of the intelligence community. Nothing came of it.
Seven weeks ago, the 9/11 commission issued its report recommending change-in the intelligence community and elsewhere-to deal with the terrorist threat. The commission coupled its recommendations with a call for urgent action.
What was the response? The congressional recess went on-six weeks we were out, and now we're back for a few weeks before adjournment before the election, and people are saying we might not have enough time to get the job done. The congressional recess was undisturbed. Even after the threat level for New York and Washington was raised, there was no call to come to Washington.
And I was very proud of the Democrats. Over 100 of them came back to Washington in August to support the legislation that I'm going to talk to you about this morning-which I must have put down.
There has been too much-too much delay. Congress must use the time left in this session to enact legislation that addresses the problems identified so clearly by the 9/11 commission and others.
To focus our efforts, many of my Democratic colleagues are joining me today in introducing a bill that translates the commission's recommendations into legislative language. We invited the speaker and House Republicans to join in co-sponsoring the bill, but none has accepted. But I'm still hopeful, I'm hopeful that we can proceed on a bipartisan, bicameral basis with this basic bill as the point of discussion.
Congress will work its will, but we have to start someplace. And we have a good place to start-the 9/11 Commission Report-rather than trying to put a little-a bill together with eight committees working as if we're reinventing the wheel.
The bill will give the committees of jurisdiction a framework for considering the 9/11 Commission's proposals on their merits and reporting them to the House quickly for debate and vote. We're also today calling on Speaker Hastert to appoint a bipartisan task force to reform how the House conducts its oversight responsibilities. The current system needs to be revised, and our security demands a bipartisan reform process.
Our words of comfort this week to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks are diminished by the critical work that remains to be done. We should have had something for this third year anniversary. We didn't; there's still time before we go out. But we have to have a sense of urgency. Many of us just returned from the White House where we met with the president, and he talked about supporting the National Intelligence Director having full budget authority, and talked about how many of the initiatives in the 9/11 Commission Report were things that he could support in this or that, and I thought that that argued very clearly for his urging Congress to take up in legislative form what the commission put forth. The Senate in a bipartisan way has put this forth. It's similar to what we are introducing here. And we just want to give momentum to the effort to get this process moving so that we can bring ourselves closer to protecting the American people.
With that, I'm very pleased to yield to the very distinguished gentleman from Maryland, our Democratic whip of the House, Steny Hoyer.
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Mr. Hoyer.
As many of you know, at that time, six weeks ago, I held up this bill and said that that-well, we have now 100 members of the House, Democrats, have signed on to it. It could have been a base bill that could have been used as a markup, instead of having meetings, which are more like conversations, unless you are acting upon legislation.
Our-one of our leaders in the House, Congressman Menendez, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, a very strong voice on the International Relations Committee. And his statement there was one that members read and respected for its strength in terms of urgency and honoring our responsibility to protect the American people.
Congressman Menendez, thank you for your leadership.
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you. Muchas gracias, Mr. Menendez.
Now I'm very pleased to present the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, who has such great familiarity with this issue of long standing, a member of the committee and leader on this subject, Congresswoman Jane Harman of California. REP. HARMAN: I thank the leader and thank my colleagues and am proud to stand here to sign on as an original cosponsor of the right bill introduced in the House at the right time to, I hope, serve as the base bill that we will mark up to implement the recommendations of the unanimous, bipartisan 9/11 commission.
A number of us in the House have long been involved in this issue of intelligence community reform. I am the author of one bill, supported by all other eight Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. We wish that were a unanimous Intelligence Committee bill, but it has not been up to this date. But I'm the author of one of these bills. There is a number of these bills.
We have the expertise to act, and the time is now. The leader's bill, which was drafted in a dispassionate way by legislative counsel to reflect the 9/11 commission recommendations, should be the vehicle we now schedule for markup in the House. Leader (sic) Hastert should designate a committee to act as lead committee. I hope it will be the Intelligence Committee. We have primary jurisdiction. That bill should be referred to our committee and we should hold markup hearings now. Not in three weeks, not in 10 weeks, not after we adjourn, not next year, but right now.
We've had a number of hearings. According to former Chairman Goss, we've had 62 hearings and briefings this year that bear on this issue. We're ready to roll, and we can apply the wisdom we've learned and have a legislative markup hearing and vote on whether these precise provisions or some improvement on these provisions is the way to go.
The other thing that we need is aggressive, hands-on
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Harman.
Now I'm pleased to present the ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, a person whose work has made us all proud. If he were the chairman, it would make us all safer as well. Mr. Turner.
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REP. PELOSI: Thank you very much, Mr. Turner, and thank you for your leadership to my colleagues as well.
And so, today-as I mentioned, we had this bill ready six weeks ago. We couldn't drop it into the hopper because Congress wasn't in session, but we are doing that today with the names of 100 Democrats associated with it. We'll have more now that people are back.
But what I said to the president this morning at the meeting was that we appreciate what he's saying about having-supporting a national intelligence director and giving him budgetary authority. We still have to see the details of that.
But unless he supports a bill in Congress to move this forward, I'm afraid-I'm very afraid that Congress will leave here without doing what it needs to do to protect the American people when it comes to implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. It doesn't mean we don't act upon it, it doesn't mean that Congress doesn't work its will on it and we have public comment on it, but it means that we move forward. And that sense of urgency is what I see that is missing when I hear all of the objections to why we cannot move forward.
The bill is there, it's in the Senate, it's bipartisan, and because it's bipartisan, has the support of the commission and the families. Until we have could have a bipartisan product, we wouldn't even ask them for support, because we believe that this should be bipartisan in order to protect the American people in a way that they respect.
And with that, we'd be pleased to take any questions.
Q Madame Leader, has President Bush explained why he's changed his position on budget authority for the NID?
REP. PELOSI: No.
Q And how significant is that in propelling this legislation on?
REP. PELOSI: I just wanted to defer to my colleague, but she's gone.
The president did not say-didn't even indicate that it was a change of mind. But he did say that he supported it and the budgetary authority. But as you know with all of this, the devil is in the details; in what manner do they support the budgetary authority going to the national intelligence director. That remains for us to see in print, on paper, so that we can make a judgment about it.
But let's assume that the president wants to do what it seems he is saying that he wants to do. He has to tell Congress to move on this. He must tell Congress. And you know that if this is something the president truly wants, Congress will act upon his wish.
Q Was there any discussion of a time frame in there? We have a month left in this Congress, theoretically, at least on the calendar. Was there any talk about doing part of it, or was this all or nothing?
REP. PELOSI: Well, the concern that we have is that the Republican leadership in the House has talked about and did this morning, as well, having eight committees act upon-to make their own proposals, not act upon a bill, but to start from scratch. And then what I'm afraid of is we come to the end of the session and then in a couple of days they want to just have something go-take it or leave it. That's just not what the American people deserve.
Congresswoman Harman said it so well. This is not new. For anybody to say we can't rush to judgment on these provisions, it's been three years since 9/11; and even before that, it was clear that we needed to change the model-the business model of the intelligence community. So anyone who is just coming in on the ninth inning really has to play catch-up rather than the rest of us wait until they do.
So it-I'm-what I'm afraid of is something will be pieced together; it will be "you can take it or leave it" to Congress. That's not the way it should go.
We have a model. We have bipartisanship in the Senate on a similar bill. That's what we should use as our base bill. And all the hearings-you can have all the hearings in the world; if you're not referencing legislation, you're not making progress.
Q In the Senate, the majority leader and minority leader are working together to work through some of these logistical issues. I'd assume that the same thing would happen in the House. I take it that's not happened, the speaker has not --
REP. PELOSI: Not yet. Not yet. But I'm optimistic that something will happen. I think it would be very important. There's too much at stake for us not to work in a bipartisan way to address the oversight issue, for example, and Congress's important role in protecting the American people.
Q Can I follow up? Are you speaking with Mr. Hastert about this? I mean, are you all engaged in at least some conversation about how to get this legislation moved?
REP. PELOSI: Well, we were, as you know, in recess for six weeks, which is so unfathomable to me, that we could have had-by 9/11 we could have passed legislation to have some of the recommendations passed into law as a sign of good faith and a sign of a desire to make progress.
I sat with the speaker-I sat next to him at the Cabinet table this morning, and we talked about the fact that we have to have a plan on how we go forward. The ball is in his court to do that. That is the speaker's prerogative.
Q You keep talking about the vacation or the break for six weeks. Wouldn't some of the criticism then been, well, we're trying to move this through too fast, you're stepping on our convention for political gain? Would there have been some criticism there?
REP. PELOSI: I don't know if you've been outside the Capitol and seen the security measures that have been taken in the last six weeks to protect the Capitol. This isn't about politics, this is hallowed ground. On 9/11, a few thousand Americans died, and we have to come back with a way to protect the American people. We can't take a six- week vacation at the same time as the administration is raising the threat level, is putting up barriers-additional barriers around the Capitol, and to say we don't have time. And it's not about their convention. They have a right to their convention, we had to ours, but they only took four days each. We've had six weeks in which we could have been moving this along.
But that was then. You know, I think we've got to put that aside and move forward. The point is, at this point, after you've squandered six weeks of opportunity, to say it's too late for us to do anything that comprehensive because we're going to-we don't want to rush it through is just not right.
And so if you have a base bill that this bill is, which is without any editorializing or change-it's what the leg(islative) council translated the 9/11 commission recommendations into-you can start with that. Congress can work its will, Congress can add its value to it, and we will be much farther along.
So it's-this is what we're here to do, to protect and defend the American people from the clear and present danger of terrorism. And you know, I reject out of hand anyone saying because we want to do that expeditiously, that that's political, because they had a convention. We did, too.
REP. MENENDEZ: May I join you on that, just answer --
REP. PELOSI: Please.
REP. MENENDEZ: Just very briefly, as to your question, when we stood here last, it was before our convention as well. And we called for us to stay and work. So it's not about a question of conventions, because I think the American people would appreciate much more a legislative change and a new structure in intelligence that protects them than eight days of speeches about security. Having real security is more desirable than having eights days of speeches about security.
And notwithstanding those eight days, we had, you know, 20-some- odd more days in which we could work with the intensity that-and the urgency that Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton called for. I think it was a lost opportunity. I agree with the leader that's been lost. We need to move forward. But the question is, do we now have the sense of urgency in this period of time to move forward as we should?
Q Madame Leader, yesterday Senator McCain admitted that he expected significant institutional resistance to this bill. What kind of-where do you think the resistance is going to come from, where it's going to be strongest? And also, do you have any strategy, as you've talked with Republicans, about how to overcome that resistance?
REP. PELOSI: Well, what we're trying to do is build momentum for taking up the 9/11 commission recommendations. Again, the Senate has a bipartisan product. It will be reentered-it will be introduced into the House. We want to give momentum to that initiative by having 100 Democrats sign on to this legislation.
So again, trying to be in the most positive mode; concerned because of the squandering of time, of the six weeks, but that's past; welcoming the opportunity that we have in the few weeks that we're still in session; recognizing that we have a product that we can act upon, we hope that we can push aside the institutional objections, which are, no question, there. I'll leave it for them to speak for themselves.
All I'm saying is, in order to try to roll over them, we want to help build the momentum for the legislation. We owe it to the American people.
Q How is this bill different from the McCain-Lieberman bill that Shays and Maloney introduced in the House?
REP. PELOSI: Very much-it's not that much different except the bill, their bill goes farther in terms of its initiatives on foreign aid and hearts and minds and those kinds of initiatives. But by and large, it is one that is completely compatible with their bill. And I'm certain that many of the people who sponsored this, cosponsored this bill will cosponsor it. It's in the same spirit. And since they have-we didn't know they would have something today when we announced our introduction of this six weeks ago. That's good news for the country, that they have the bill that they have. But in the meantime we've communicated with our members on a regular basis about the merit of this bill. And I think that it contributes significantly to the momentum to get something done.
Q The fact that Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton were at that press conference and wholeheartedly endorsed that bill --
REP. PELOSI: Yes. Perfect.
Q-is that not somewhat confusing, you think, to the public?
REP. PELOSI: No.
Q That would seem to be the bill that has the --
REP. PELOSI: No, the-well, the fact is that was bipartisan. And we couldn't possibly ask the commissioners to endorse a bill that was not bipartisan. So I think that's a great vehicle. In fact, I asked the president to support that bill as a starting point congressionally for a mark-up, and then, if he had differences with it, to make them known, and the Congress would work its own will on it.
So, you know, this is just to give momentum to the substance of what we are talking about here. What-this is not in any way to compete with that bill, but to say we've been working on it for six weeks, a hundred people have signed up, it's very compatible with their bill, and let's have another gust of wind to blow over the institutional obstacles that we know that will be there, because it can very easily slip away.
I'll tell you, as one of the co-chairs of the joint inquiry of a year and a half ago, everyone was-we're going to do this, we're going to do that, we're going to do this, we're going to do that. Well, hopefully, the product that we had contributed to the intellectual basis for the 9/11 Commission. But we didn't see any sense of urgency for the administration or the Congress to act upon the recommendations we made at that time. And we cannot let this Congress adjourn without having legislation passed.
Q A quick question on the bill itself, if I may. One section of the recommendations deals with transportation security, and there's talk about integrating border security along with the internal transportation system as well as, I guess, checkpoints or different points near critical infrastructure sites. What are we talking about when we talk about transportation security?
REP. TURNER: That's an area that has been totally neglected in terms of trying to ensure that we can monitor what comes into this country, where it's moving, what is in the shipping containers. It also relates to the movement of people across our borders. The reality is that the only major initiative that's been announced by the administration in this area is the so-called US-VISIT program, which turns out it's still based on an antiquated INS computer system that will not fully integrate all of the databases of the federal government that need to be integrated in order to be sure that when somebody comes before a border patrol agent to cross our border, they know everything about that person that's available in real time from all of the government databases.
You know, I think what we struggle with in the House-and admittedly, in the Senate they have a good bipartisan bill. It's a good start. We need a bipartisan bill here. But to get one in the House I think the political reality is the president of the United States needs to support these 41 recommendations. We are in a political season, and it is very difficult, I think, for House Republicans to be any more aggressive or supportive of the various 41 recommendations than the president is. Every one of those recommendations, Democrats have advocated for them for months.
If you read the work that we've done on the Homeland Security Committee, as Democrats we've put out a dozen reports dealing with all of these issues. And it is no secret in the Congress that the Democrats in the House have been for moving faster and stronger on the war on terror, protecting the homeland than our Republican colleagues have. If you look back at the debate on the homeland security bill, when Ranking Member Mr. Obey offered an amendment to add $3 billion to the homeland security budget for this year.
We have advocated these issues. We need our Republican colleagues to at least meet us halfway and implement the full 41 recommendations of the 9/11 commission. We believe it is essential for the security of this country that we do so, and we await the effort on the Republican side to move together with us to get it done.
I'm glad to see the Senate has a good bipartisan bill. We need one here, and we're going to do everything we can to be sure that we get one that moves this country forward.
As I've said earlier, if you read the 9/11 report you must ask the question, why haven't these things been done in the last three years? We're at war. Our terrorist enemies are not waiting. The war is not just fought abroad; it is going to be and is being fought here at home. And so we've got to be sure that we do everything that we know we must do to protect the American people.
Q So does this recommendation possibly suggest creating internal checkpoints?
REP. TURNER: I don't know that it does so. You know, there are efforts being made today to have checks back from the border. But all of that is rather sporadic. And as I said earlier, when you know you're releasing 23,000 people into this country from places other than Mexico, you know that we have a serious security gap that terrorists could exploit.
You know, we need for the president to announce today that we're going to put up those tent cities that we once had when we had a similar crisis years ago, and hold those detainees so they're not released into our country, never to return again.
These are basic, commonsense actions that you take when your country is under a terrorist threat, and there is no doubt that we are. Where the doubt remains is whether we're willing to make the commitment to do something about it.
Homeland security spending this year, compared to the year of 9/11, is $20 billion more. That's not just for the Homeland Security Department, that's for the FBI and all efforts to secure the homeland. Our defense budget is up $100 billion this year, as compared to pre- 9/11. Frankly, out of an 800-plus billion-dollar federal budget, we can do better when we face the threat of terrorist attack. And I think it's time for action.
And I agree with the leader; we don't need to leave here until these recommendations are implemented. It's a historic opportunity. The recommendations were bipartisan. It's time to move, and this commission report gives us the momentum to enable us to move. All we need now is the leadership to get it done.
Q Mr. Turner, a point of clarification. Fifty of the 23,000, do those come across the Texas border or --
REP. TURNER: The Southern border.
Q The Southern border of the U.S.?
REP. TURNER: That's right.
REP. PELOSI: I just want to add one point here, and that is how proud I am of the hard work of the members of our leadership and our ranking members on this issue. Democrats take very seriously our responsibility to protect and defend the American people.
In our leadership, Mr. Menendez serves not only on International Relations, but on the Transportation Infrastructure Committee. So he knows full well many of these issues in great depth.
Mr. Turner, as the ranking member on Homeland Security, has been a tremendous leader, but he also serves on the Armed Services Committee, so he has that interaction.
Mr. Hoyer, our whip, has faced these issues and these fights on the Appropriations Committee where the Republicans-and over and over again-rejected increased funding for inspection of containers, of rejection of more funds to buy the plutonium and uranium that exists in the world-over and over again. Mr. Hoyer brings that experience to this debate-I don't want to call it a fight.
Mr. Clyburn on Appropriations, the same thing.
Mrs. Harman brings tremendous credentials to her role as ranking on the committee.
So it's in a very thoughtful way that we say this is a very good starting point and Congress should work its will on this legislation. If we wait for Congress to do its own reconstruction of some new product, I'm afraid it will not-it will be inferior to this and members will be faced with a take it or leave it vote as we reach the end of session, if it's even ready then.
So in that spirit of let's hopefully work together, let's embrace the Senate bipartisan legislation. We hope that the communication we've had among Democrats prepares them to do that very readily. We think it does because this bill is very similar to that bill. But it's with great knowledge of the substance, a depth of knowledge, a breadth of information that is current, a depth of commitment, that we say, Mr. President, please urge the Congress to take up these recommendations and do it now.
Q Madame Leader, could you comment, please, on Vice President Cheney's remarks yesterday about what might happen if Senator Kerry is elected president?
REP. PELOSI: Are we finished with questions about the legislation?
Q I have one quick question.
REP. PELOSI: I'll come right back to you.
Q Have you been in touch with any of the commissioners about your bill -- (off mike) --
REP. PELOSI: Well, we had our bill the day the commissioners were here. And they knew that we were going to take their recommendations, turn it into legislative language, which we did. And so we communicated with the chairman and the vice chairman at that time about this.
But again, what was clear-and I respect it completely-that until we had something that was bipartisan, it would be unfair to even ask them to support even their own recommendations in legislative language.
Q Did they say that?
REP. PELOSI: No. But you know, that's-would be the fair thing to do. But they did hope to have a bipartisan vehicle. But let me say this: these are their own words in legislative language.
Any other questions about the bill?
Q I have one more quick question about the bill itself. Under intelligence reform, we're talking about more sharing between different intelligence agencies, and specifically FBI and CIA. Would you support FBI and CIA in partaking in joint domestic surveillance --
REP. PELOSI: (Inaudible) -- as a member of the Intelligence Committee for 10 years, as you may know, I would proceed very cautiously in having the CIA involved in domestic surveillance. But we have-we will have to make some way that we can protect the civil liberties of the American people as we protect and defend their safety. So I would-I think those decisions have to be made with a very open period of public comments so the public knows what decisions were made, and why, as we go forward.
On your question about terrorism, about the vice president's statement, I would hope that the president of the United States would disassociate himself from the statement that was made by the vice president. It was not only inappropriate; it was a dangerous statement for any person to make in our country.
The vice president-as one-I speak for myself-who is weekly briefed on our intelligence situation, I know that the vice president knows full well that if the U.S. is attacked by terrorists before the next president is inaugurated, it will be because this president allowed Iraq to distract him from getting the job done in dealing with the al Qaeda-the clear and present danger that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden pose to our country.
It is completely inappropriate for the president-the vice president to, in effect, threaten the American people, to instill-to be part of instilling fear into our country. And I would hope that the president of the United States would disassociate himself from any such comments.
Q (Off mike) -- the United States casualties reaching over 1,000 today?
REP. PELOSI: Yesterday the 1,000th member-is that what we're calling it now, because I see it's 999. Yesterday the 1,000th member of the American military died in Iraq. This sad milestone is a grim reminder of the ongoing toll of war, and a time for reflection of the war's cost. A thousand people.
The country mourns with the thousands of American families whose lives have been torn part by this war thus far, and we pray for all of the men and women who are courageously serving now in Iraq.
The war in Iraq has already cost 1,000 lives, several-I think it's now up to 7,000 injured, a quarter of a trillion dollars, and tremendous cost to our reputation in the world. And it's been a perilous distraction from the clear and present danger that terrorism poses to our (question ?).
So in regard to the 1,000 men and women who have given their lives in Iraq, we thank them. We appreciate their sacrifice. Their valor is its own justification. There's no way to say it didn't have to happen. Their valor is something that we honor. But we have to have a better policy so that we don't lose so much life in the future.
Q Would you comment on the expiration of the assault weapons ban?
REP. PELOSI: Well, the president says he supports the extension of the assault weapon ban. And if he does, well, he can then just tell the leadership, the Republican leadership in Congress to bring it forward.
Thank you all very much.