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Media Stakeout with Senator Mitch Mcconnell and Senator Harry Reid Following Closed Meeting of the Senate 9/11 Working Group

Location: Washington DC

September 15, 2004 Wednesday




SEN. MCCONNELL: Let me just lead off by giving you a sense of where we are on the working group that was appointed by Senator Frist and Senator Daschle. It's 22 members, equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Senator Reid and I are chairing that group.

As you recall, the 9/11 commission made 41 recommendations. Thirty-nine of them had to do with the executive branch; only two dealt with Congress. The executive branch recommendations will come out of the Government Affairs Committee. Our working group is dealing only with the two of the 41 recommendations which relate to what we should do here in Congress to respond to the changes that we all feel are needed in order to give us a chance to fight the war on terror as well as we possibly can.

In pursuit of that objective, let me just make a couple of further observations, then I'll call on Senator Reid.

We are proceeding in a totally bipartisan manner. Every single member of our working group feels that we ought to come up with a joint recommendation. That is not to say that there probably won't be some amendments on the floor to anything we recommend, but there's a totally bipartisan spirit. Senator Reid and I have met with members of our own party, and this morning of course we've met with all of us together. They would like Senator Reid and myself to come up with a working paper, which we'll be trying to do in the next few days, and then we'll get down to actually considering each of the recommendations that our joint group thinks appropriate.

The final thing I would just call your attention to is that most of what we'll be considering, if done, would probably be done by rules change as opposed to statute. And the timing of that we think ought to be soon, just like the executive branch changes.

With that, let me turn it over to my colleague and friend, Senator Reid.

SEN. REID: Thank you very much, Mitch.

We went to this meeting with no preconceived ideas as to what the senators wanted in specific items. I think to show how we're working together in a bipartisan fashion, Republicans and Democrats both said why don't the two of you come back to us with specifics, and we'll have, if necessary, votes on each one of those and move forward.

So Mitch and I have a charge that we feel the-really the weight of it. We're going to do everything that we can to move forward. We believe that it would be important, if we're going to do some construction on the executive branch, that we need to do some construction on the legislative branch.

And even though, as Senator McConnell pointed out, the commission only talked about two areas of responsibility that we've been charged with, there are a number of different alternatives there that they've recommended for those two; it goes to about 41 different items that we're going to have to take a look at.

So, we understand the direction of the 9/11 commission. And I felt, and do feel extremely positive about the senators who we met with today. There was really a feeling of what we're doing is important, and that that has to be carried forward to accomplish something rather than just recognizing there's a problem.

Q (Off mike) -- something before you leave for the year or for before the election?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Absolutely, yeah.

SEN. REID: Going to do our very, very best to move forward as quickly as we can.

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'd like to move forward soon.

Q This will be-so you'll come back to the working group with specific recommendations on how to restructure the committees to make it more effective -- (off mike)?



Q That would be-next week you would have your suggestions ready?

SEN. REID: Well, we don't want to tie ourself down as to define times. Down around here, time goes very quickly. But we-Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins are part of our task force. They've been there with-every meeting we've held, they've been present. And what we'd like to do, before their matter is off the floor, we would like to have our matter resolved. Most of what they do is going to take legislative changes. Senator McConnell mentioned most of what we do will require rules changes of the Senate.

Q There are a lot of chairmen on your working group. Were there concerns expressed today bout someone losing jurisdiction over intelligence, someone losing jurisdiction over appropriations? Was there any concern like that expressed?

SEN. REID: I think that we-Mitch can speak for himself, but I think that we're not going to get into specifics as to what went on in that meeting. I think one of the reasons they delegated responsibility to us is to come back to them with-there was a nice free discussion in the meeting, and we're going to take those suggestions and recommendations into our two-man working group and see what we come up with. But I think it's unfair to talk about what went on there specifically.

Q Without getting into specifics, then, do you sense or is there resistance to-you know, a sense of turf battles and people want to keep their jurisdiction? Do you expect people to concede and --

SEN. MCCONNELL: As Harry indicated, we're not going to get into where individual members might be on given issues. We're going to go forward, try to come up with a set of recommendations the two of us think reflect the thinking of most of our members, and move on from there.

Q I mean, you'd mentioned that this would involve rules changes, rather than statute changes. What-and not speaking as a legal expert, but the-what I understand from the 9/11 commission is that they want to establish permanent homeland security committees and grant appropriative powers to the intelligence committees. Could those changes be implemented only through rules, or would those need something else?

SEN. REID: We think most-everything that we have been asked to do by the commission can be done by simple rule changes.

Q Okay.

SEN. REID: There are a few statutes, but very few.

Thank you all very much.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay. Thanks.

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